Viktor Hovland makes successful 'home' debut as question of how much the European will play in Europe lingers

September 19, 2019

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VIRGINIA WATER, England — Never mind those 17 sub-70 rounds in succession on the PGA Tour. Even more impressively during his admittedly still brief professional career, Viktor Hovland has never failed to shoot in the 60s on the European Tour. Not even once.

Of course, the three-under-par 69 with which the 22-year-old Norwegian began the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Thursday is also his first round as a professional in a European Tour event. Which did not go unnoticed.

Interviewed by Sky Sports and the BBC after his seven-birdie, four-bogey trip around the famous old Burma Road, which left him four off the lead of England’s Matt Wallace, Hovland was then surrounded by a posse of the U.K.’s print media. And still then he wasn’t done. Three journalists from his home country—one from VG, the biggest-selling newspaper and another from NRK, the most-watched television station—are here to cover his debut on the Old World circuit.

“He is very big news back home,” said Eurosport’s Espen Blaher, the third Norwegian journalist in attendance.

It was no coincidence, too, that Hovland played in the company of Padraig Harrington. It was at the 2020 European Ryder Cup captain’s instigation that the former Oklahoma State student joined his “home” circuit in June, when the pair first met at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. Needless to say, Harrington was impressed by what he witnessed.

“I knew before we played what a good golfer Viktor is,” said Harrington, who shot a one-over 73. “What I learned today was what a great attitude he has, how relaxed he is and the fact he plays such fearless golf. It’s only to be admired. I guess he plays like a 22-year-old—he’s confident and strong mentally. And no, he didn’t exceed my expectations. But don’t take that the wrong way. I had high expectations, and he certainly lived up to them.”

Not only that, Hovland’s influence has already extended to another member of the Harrington clan. Having seen the now-famous “double-pump” at the top of the Hovland backswing, Harrington’s 16-year-old son, Paddy, is already copying the move from the former U.S. Amateur champion.

“He has what I’d love to have, that confidence to just go out and play,” said Harrington senior of Hovland. “It’s clear to everyone that he’s really enjoying himself.”

Though that was obvious by his smiling demeanor, Hovland wasn’t giving much away about his future plans. He certainly isn’t about to commit himself to anything more than occasional visits to the European Tour. At least in the short term—and like Jon Rahm before him—Hovland’s European heritage is superseded by a need to establish himself on the PGA Tour before he can think of things like Ryder Cups.

Which is not to say a spot on the European team at Whistling Straits next year has not crossed Hovland’s mind. It is one of his “top three” goals moving forward.

“I loved college golf so much, being part of a winning team for Oklahoma State,” he said. “But as a professional you are doing everything for yourself, which is a bit arrogant. When you are part of a team, you have a bigger purpose. [The Ryder Cup] would be the pinnacle.”

One last thing. That sub-70 streak. Was it nice to have kept it going? Not really.

“A month ago in the first Korn Ferry Tour event, I shot two rounds in the 70s, and I don’t think people noticed that,” Hovland said with a smile. “So the streak isn’t maybe as long as people think it is. So I didn’t really think about it. I just tried to shoot as low as I can and see how it goes. There were a lot of people out here. And it was cool to be playing in front of them.”

Judging by the warm reception Hovland received from the galleries, they thought so, too.