KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Viktor Hovland isn’t sure how big a deal winning a major championship would be back home in Norway, but he knows this: “I can’t remember the last time I felt as good as I did today on the golf course,” he said, after shooting 3-under 69 at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
That was good enough for an early share of the first-round lead at the 103rd PGA Championship with a gaggle of players, including Brooks Koepka.
Hovland, 23, made birdies on three of Kiawah’s four par 5s and canned an 11-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth hole. His lone blemish was a bogey at the first hole, his 10thof the day. For Hovland, the ocean breeze didn’t give him too much trouble. Hovland played college golf at Oklahoma State and still calls Stillwater home and while there isn’t any oceanfront property to be had in his neck of the woods, Hovland explained, “it blows like this every single day.”
Hovland’s game has been clicking on nearly all cylinders this season. Winner of the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December, he entered this week with back-to-back T-3 finishes, but he was fighting an “overdraw,” which just required a change in his setup and all of a sudden he’s able to work it both ways on command.
“Now I really feel like there’s not really a hole in my game,” he said.
Just last month, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama became a national hero when he became the first male Japanese player to win a major. With his U.S. Amateur title and two victories on the PGA Tour in his fledgling professional career, Hovland is beginning to emerge as a popular figure back in his native Norway. How would winning the PGA Championship be received back in his homeland?
“It’s hard to say. Golf doesn’t really have a very rich tradition back home,” Hovland explained. “We have a very rich Olympic tradition, and now with golf being an Olympic sport, I think it would be great for people back home to just get into the sport. I really have no idea. We’ll have to get there first.”
Asked if he’s ever been on the front page of Oslo’s biggest newspaper, Hovland smiled that boyish grin of his and said, “Could not tell you.”
Turns out he’s not much of a newspaper reader.
“Typical millennial,” he said, his smile growing wider.
But that may be a bit of modesty on Hovland’s part when it comes to his star power back home. His father, Harald, an engineer who picked up the game during business trips to the United States, recently spent five weeks in America watching Viktor play and summed up his growing popularity at home this way: “Even grandmothers stay up to watch him.”
He said golf is growing in popularity due to the recognition Hovland has brought to the sport. There’s no telling what a victory at Kiawah would do to grow the game back home, but as Hovland so perfectly put it, “We’ll have to get there first.”