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At Bay Hill, Hovland thrives in U.S. Am winner's spotlight
10 Mar 2019
by Julie Williams of AmateurGolf.com

see also: Viktor Hovland Rankings

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Viktor Hovland (right) at the U.S. Amateur (USGA photo)
Viktor Hovland (right) at the U.S. Amateur (USGA photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a big gap between college golf and the PGA Tour, but Viktor Hovland gives a somewhat surprising answer when asked what it takes to be successful on the highest level. To some degree, it’s about time management and finding a good routine.

“You need to find certain things that you need to do to make you play good," Hovland said on the subject of preparation after closing out a 2-under 70 in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He was the only amateur to make the cut.

That is to say that when playing a PGA Tour event, you can’t spend all of the early week on the range beating balls, looking around and generally exhausting yourself. That’s a common mistake made by amateurs, but Hovland, the U.S. Amateur champion, is past that. Winning the nation's biggest amateur event opens doors the right doors to learn such lessons. After three PGA Tour starts this season, Hovland feels confident he has found a good routine.

A spot is traditionally reserved in the Arnold Palmer Invitational field for the U.S. Amateur champ – as a nod to Palmer’s win at the 1954 U.S. Am – in addition to a handful of other PGA Tour events. Hovland, an Oklahoma State junior, has already played the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the Farmers Insurance Open. He missed the cut in both, but looked decidedly more comfortable at Bay Hill.

Still, he had to scramble to get inside the cutline on Friday. He had gone 2 over in his first four holes, but was 4 under coming in. There were birdie looks on that back nine but more importantly there were par saves, including at the par-4 15th where he fanned his drive into the trees, flubbed his first knock-down, then rolled his second to within 10 feet and made the putt.

After rounds of 74-70-73-70, Hovland ended the weekend at Bay Hill tied for 40th.

The 21-year-old Norwegian’s game isn’t where he wants it to be right now and on a tighter Tour venue -- tighter than a college-golf setup, anyway -- he can tell that.

“It’s just, I’m not hitting the shots that I want to, not executing how I want to,” he said. “I’m just trying to plug along and miss on the right sides and occasionally I’ll hit a good shot and try to take advantage of it.”

Even so, as much as Hovland blended in because of his game, he stood out for the other details: the team-logoed bag balanced on spindly legs, a friend from Norway as his caddie and an expression of enjoyment on his face that shows Tour life isn’t yet his day job.

Players in this position are peppered with questions about when they’ll turn pro. Getting a taste of the other side can often speed along the decision to do that. As Hovland is beginning to understand how to be successful on this level, he’s also beginning to look at the decision of when to make the jump for good.

“Still kind of debating whether I turn pro this summer or stay another year in college,” said Hovland, who has won two individual titles with Oklahoma State this season. “Definitely you want to be out here as soon as possible. It’s a pretty sweet place.”

It’s not as if Hovland isn’t being pushed back home in Stillwater, Okla. The team has played seven times this season and a Cowboy has won the individual title every time. Asked how insanely competitive the team atmosphere really is, Hovland gave a window into what goes on each week at Karsten Creek, the Cowboys’ home track.

“You play against the guys every day, you see them every day,” he said. “We beat each other all the time and then you see certain guys winning college tournaments, they play well elsewhere and then it kind of gives you a little confidence too.”

It has been a season of learning, but Hovland – college golf’s top-ranked player and Oklahoma State’s second-best scorer (behind Matthew Wolff, another national sensation) – doesn’t want to rush it.

“Normally people talk about long term, but right now I’m thinking more about the short term. I’m trying to soak everything in. Even the college tournaments, I don’t want to take anything for granted. Try to win every single one.”

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