‘Not surprised’ by Viktor’s victory

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Norwegian coaches who trained golfer Viktor Hovland as a young teenager were impressed but not surprised by his stunning victory at the US Amateur over the weekend. They were citing his perfectionism and, quite literally, his drive as key factors behind his success at the tournament that’s been won by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.

Norway’s Viktor Hovland admires his US Amateur trophy after winning a tournament that’s hurled him on to the international stage. PHOTO: PGA Media

“He’s the only one I know who would keep training even on his birthday,” Magnus Ohlsson, who coached Hovland when he was a young teen at the Grønmo Golf Club in Oslo, told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “Or who would come home from a tournament in Europe, land at Gardermoen (Norway’s gateway airport in Oslo) and head straight to the golf club to practice.”

Ohlsson described Hovland as extremely goal-oriented, and willing to work hard. “In the autumn (at the end of Norway’s summer when it stays light until late in the evening) Viktor would be furious because the sun went down too early,” Ohlsson said. “Then there weren’t enough hours for training.”

It’s clearly paying off. Hovland, age 20, won the coveted US Amateur trophy after dominating play all week and beating UCLA senior Devon Bling in the final.  (For detailed coverage of the showdown, click here to the AP’s account on the PGA website, and more photos from the tournament.)

Hovland’s passion for golfing began early at the Drøbak Golf Club south of Oslo, where his parents played often. Hovland would go with them, and he quickly became very eager.

“When he still lived at home, there was hardly ever a day during winter when we could avoid driving him to the indoor golf facility at Fornebu (in Oslo),” recalled his father Harald. In the summer he played at Drøbak, then several years at Grønmo in Oslo before he returned to Drøbak.

Hovland, age 20, on his way to winning the prestigious tournament on the Pebble Beach golf course in California, about a two-hour drive south of San Francisco. PHOTO: PGA Media

Another one of his early coaches, Jim McGowan at the Drøbak club, remembers one training session in particular when Hovland was 14 years old: “He fixed a few small things and hit the ball differently. Suddenly he achieved an entirely new length.” He described Hovland’s development during his teenage years as “phenomenal.” McGowan thinks Hovland hits the ball in a manner that separates him from most others, adding that Hovland has “no fear” when he plays.

Before he moved to the US to attend and play golf for Oklahoma State University, Hovland also studied at the Wang athletics high school in Oslo, where sports chief Håvard Johansen recalls his “burning desire” to develop well as a golfer. Johansen told Aftenposten that Hovland “dared to train on technique” while in competition, to develop further so that he’d become better later. “Most others wouldn’t have dared to think development in a big tournament,” Johansen said.

The ‘perfectionist’ emerged
Hovland also spent time at the Miklagard Golf Club, where Nicolai Langeland was his coach. “When he trains, he really trains,” Langeland told Aftenposten. “Many train 30-40 hours a week, but they don’t have optimal focus. We used to joke that a bomb could go off next to Viktor on the training field and he wouldn’t even notice it.” He was too concentrated on his golf.

Langeland calls Hovland “a perfectionist. He sets sky-high demands for himself and is always hunting for the perfect.”

Others agree. Niklas Diethelm, coach of Norway’s national golf team, remembers pitting Hovland against England’s best player in a tournament in the junior nationals, and Hovland beat him. “Then I began to realize that something completely special lived inside of him,” Diethelm said. When Diethelm met Hovland again this summer, “I’d never seen him play so well. He hardly missed a stroke for three days.”

‘Wonderful guy’
Henrik Bjørnstad, the only other Norwegian male who has played on the prestigious PGA tour, had contact with Hovland at an early stage and agrees Hovland has displayed “fantastic development” while in the US. “He has always been a wonderful guy,” Bjørnstad told Aftenposten. “Now he’s also received that big dose of self-confidence and manages to combine it with also being humble and humourous.”

Hovland told reporters in California that he wasn’t sure what his victory would mean to the folks back home in Norway, a country much more keen on skiing than golf. He can rest assured that his victory at the US Amateur topped newscasts on Monday and put him on the front pages of several newspapers Tuesday (slightly delayed because of the nine-hour time zone difference to California). Norway is, after all, also the home of LPGA veteran Suzann Pettersen, and even Norwegians who don’t know much about golf know about her.

Now Hovland can also expect invitations to play in the US Masters and the US Open next year, giving Norway a new sports star to follow in the years ahead.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund