The Columbus Dispatch
GET BUSY WINNING
Hovland hopes to build on breakout Memorial victory
Days before teeing it up at the Memorial Tournament this week, Viktor Hovland visited the former Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed.
“Just saw the outside,” he said.
Viewing the inside was not to be, but that’s OK, because the 25-year-old Norwegian already knows how to escape golf prison. Like Andy Dufresne, Hovland just kept pounding away until he eventually broke through.
Hovland finally found freedom Sunday at the Memorial Tournament, winning his first PGA Tour event in the United States in a one-hole playoff against Denny Mccarthy. He had come close to winning a few times this season – not counting his victory at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December – but walked away empty handed (Note: I would gladly accept Hovland’s empty-handed $6 million in “loser” money).
You’ve heard the golf phrase, “Best player never to win a major?” Hovland does not yet fit that description, but he is the best player not to win a major this year, tying for seventh at the Masters in April and for second at the PGA Championship two weeks ago. Adding to those close calls, he tied for third at The Players in March and was in the hunt last week entering the final round of the Colonial before closing with a disappointing 73.
With nine holes to play Sunday, it appeared his close-but-no-cigar season would continue. He trailed Mccarthy by four shots and figured his chance at winning was slim and slimmer.
“I’ve been in that spot before where that kind of seems to be it for that tournament,” he said. “But I was really proud of myself for fighting back.”
Hovland kept within striking distance with a birdie at 15, then carded the day’s only birdie at 17 to pull within one shot of Mccarthy, who was playing one group behind. After making a nervy 5-foot putt for par at 18, Hovland waited as Mccarthy stumbled home with his only bogey of the day at 18.
In the playoff, Hovland hit the green in two while Mccarthy came up short with his approach shot, then missed his par putt after chipping to 12 feet. Hovland two-putted from 58 feet, clinching his fourth tour win by draining a 7-footer.
Sometimes winning a tour event elicits more relief than joy, especially after experiencing so many close calls that exhaust the emotional reservoir.
“Obviously, learning from mistakes is key,” Hovland said. “But sometimes you get enough scar tissue in there, that’s not great, either. I don’t know how to look at it, but the more you’re in that spot, and the more you learn from it, instead of beating yourself down when you don’t perform the way you want, I think that’s a better way of handling it.”
In other words, stay positive despite how hopeless the situation may appear. Another Shawshank reference. So sue me. It’s an all-time great movie, with a golf mention as well. The man Andy is accused of murdering at the beginning of the film was a golf pro. Dangerous profession, especially at country clubs.
But I digress. Hovland is a delightful dude, able to needle tournament host Jack Nicklaus the same way the Golden
Bear likes to tease those he likes.
Asked how big the Nicklaus name is in Norway, Hovland turned to the 18-win major champion, “Not to break your ego, but I don’t think there’s too many people that know you.”
Hovland, who left frozen Norway for the scorching plains of Oklahoma, where he played college golf for Oklahoma State, explained that golf does not have a big following in his native land.
“Our golf season is short,” he said. “We get a lot of snow. We’re a proud ski nation. Most people in the summer play soccer. But the last few years it’s really ramped up and more people are getting introduced to the great game of golf.”
Thanks to Sunday’s win by their countryman, expect Norwegians to follow golf closer than ever. Not that Hovland is getting a big head about being a Pied Piper. After hoisting the Memorial trophy Sunday, he planned to carry the golf bag for a friend playing Monday’s U.S. Open qualifier at The Lakes and Brookside country clubs.
Memorial champion one day, humble caddie the next. Well done, indeed. email@example.com @rollercd