Viktor Hovland with the Havemayer Trophy (USGA photo)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Aug. 19, 2018) – Viktor Hovland
had momentum on his side Sunday when he teed it up in the final match of the U.S. Amateur. Hovland had already put together one of the most dominant runs to a final in recent history, and there was just one hurdle left at Pebble Beach.
With his Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton on the bag, the Cowboy sophomore took a 6-and-5 victory over UCLA’s Devon Bling
in the scheduled 36-hole final. Grasping the sizable Havemayer Trophy at the end of the day, Hovland didn’t quite know what to say about that.
“I keep getting asked this question, I’ve got no way to answer it,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable. All my hard work has paid off and it feels sweet.”
Hovland won back-to-back matches in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals by a 7-and-6 margin. He played brilliant golf in defeating Cole Hammer, easily the favorite in this event, by a 3-and-2 margin in the semifinals. Hovland had only ever won one event outside of Norway – a college event – and spoke early in the week of how hard it is to win tournaments. This week, it looks a little easier, but Hovland credits much of his success to his putter.
“I'd just say this week I just -- when I had to make a putt, I made the putt or hit the shot that I needed to,” he said.
Still, Hovland tied the record for fewest holes -- just 104 -- needed to win a U.S. Amateur.
On Sunday, Hovland was 4 up on Bling after the first nine despite only making two birdies. Bling, a UCLA sophomore just had too many bogeys. It allowed Hovland to win four consecutive holes from Nos. 8-11. Hovland hit his tee shot into the ocean left of No. 18, but still managed to get up-and-down for a par and tie Bling on the hole. It meant Hovland went to lunch with a 4-up lead, and it was indicative of what was to come.
Hovland made only two birdies in the afternoon – and Bling matched him each time – but ultimately Bling couldn’t battle back from such a large morning deficit. The match ended on the 31st hole.
Hovland was introduced to the game by his father, who worked in the U.S. and regularly drove past a driving range before deciding to try the sport. He brought a set of golf clubs back to Norway, and it inspired Hovland to try the game.
“Obviously I didn't play much then, but I at least got introduced to the game,” he explained. “I started playing just a little bit here and there. But I was about 11 when I said to my dad, ‘OK, I want to start practicing in the winters, as well.’”
Much of the winter is spent practicing indoors when you live in Norway, but between learning how to play in chilly early-season conditions and learning to navigate the strong winds that sometimes blow through Stillwater, Okla., Hovland clearly has no lack of toughness.
Hovland committed this past season to making a swing change that allowed for a higher ball flight and added consistency. It played a major role in his dominance around Pebble Beach.
“I've only won once before, and to win the U.S. Amateur as my second win is really cool,” Hovland said after a few minutes chatting with media, searching for the right words. “It's hard to top that. So yeah, I just hope it's the start of something great.”
Hovland is the sixth Oklahoma State player in the last 23 years to reach the U.S. Amateur final. He joins Peter Uihlein, who also had Bratton on the bag, as the only players to win.
“He has seen me play so many times, so to be able to share this moment with him, it’s awesome,” Hovland said of having his coach carry the bag.
With his victory, Hovland became the fourth Scandinavian-born player to win a USGA title, but the first to win this title. Growing up in Norway, Hovland always knew he wanted to play college golf in the U.S. He toured a handful of schools in Texas, but recognized that something different was going on at Oklahoma State.
“I went there and saw all the trophies and how they talk about the program and the history, and the guys on the team were really nice,” he said. “Kris [Ventura, of Norway] really helped me understand what was going on at Oklahoma State, so that made the decision pretty easy.”
As for Bling, there are a still a lot of positive for a player who grew up in small Ridgecrest, Calif., and entered the week as a relative unknown. There’s still a Masters start and a U.S. Open start next year at Pebble Beach to look forward to.
“Overall, it was definitely a big positive,” he said of the week’s run. “It was a little disappointing today but I’m taking all the positive out of it.”
Bling said he played some of the best golf of his life in the semifinals. Although his play this week left him just short of the title, it was a big confidence boost for his game.
“I feel like I can compete with all the best amateurs in the world,” he said.
That feeling won’t go away anytime soon.