5 things I learned while talking gear with rising star Viktor Hovland

You’ll likely never be able to swing it like Viktor Hovland, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two about your own gear (or testing process) by following his lead. During a recent trip to Stillwater, Okla., I had the opportunity to talk gear with the 23-year-old Norwegian — considered by most to be one of the best young stars in the game.

Below are 5 insights I gleaned from the interview.

1. He goes with his gut

Changing equipment is rarely easy, no matter if you’re a Tour winner or a 15-handicap. You have to be in a place where you realize a change is needed to improve, and you have to be willing to commit to whatever you’re throwing in the bag.

It can take time to trust a new club in a game situation. That’s why most Tour players spend ample time on the course putting a club through its paces before sealing the deal.

But before you get to the point where you feel comfortable swapping your gamer for something else, you need to trust that you’re making the right decision. For Viktor Hovland, he tends to roll with his gut when it comes to gear changes. Simply seeing better numbers on a launch montior isn’t enough.

“If it just feels good and I can see it performing better, or different in a way that I like, that’s enough for me to convince myself that it’s going to work — and I’ll put it in,” Hovland said. “But if you can see that it’s better but you’re still hesitant, that’s where you’re going to have some issues. I have to commit to it.”

This is a good lesson for amateur golfers. If the numbers check out but you still find yourself questioning a potential switch, move on and look at something else. If the numbers are good and you absolutely love the feel and look (aesthetics), feel confident that you can cease testing and pull the trigger.

2. He prioritizes speed — to a point

The race to gain more distance on Tour saw Hovland test out 47- and 48-inch Ping G425 drivers last season in preparation for the 2020 Masters. At 45.75 inches, Hovland already plays one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour, which allows him to generate plenty of club head speed. But it still begged the question if an extra inch (or two) could get him closer to Bryson territory.

Testing revealed that Hovland was roughly 3-5 mph faster with the 47-inch, when compared to his gamer, while the 48-inch generated an additional 4-6 mph. Those are nice numbers to have in your back pocket, but as we saw with many of the pros — outside of Phil Mickelson who won the PGA Championship with a 47.9-inch big stick — there’s a point where the additional length doesn’t translate to a noticeable edge on the course.

“The dispersion on the range wasn’t that bad, but you’re going pretty hard at it on the driving range,” Hovland said. “There’s a lot of these courses where speed is important, but you still need a low one you can flight out there and just hit the fairway. I didn’t feel like I had those shots with those clubs.”

Sure, speed is important. But so is finding the fairway. Unless you have the game to keep a 47- or 48-inch driver on the map when you absolutely have to find the fairway, it’s probably best to leave the long driver shaft testing to the professionals.

3. He’s not a big equipment tinkerer

Viktor Hovland obtained his PGA Tour card in 2019 while using four different iron compositions. What makes the feat even more impressive was the fact that Hovland turned pro in June and wrapped up his Tour status by the end of August. It’s easy to look at the numerous iron sets and assume Hovland enjoys tinkering with his club composition, but it’s actually quite the opposite.

If Hovland is playing well, he prefers to stand pat and stick with what works. That isn’t the case for every pro; some still conduct testing even when they’re in peak form. (We’re looking at you, Hideki.) There’s nothing wrong with seeing what else is out there, but that isn’t how Hovland operates during the season.

“If I’m doing the things I’m supposed to be doing, I don’t really see the need to change a whole lot,” he said. “Obviously if there’s new stuff coming out or [Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates] has an idea that would work for me, I’ll be open to try that. I try to keep an open mind. But at the same time, I’m pretty stubborn to change. I have to see that it’s better and test it.”

In other words, it’s silly to mess with success when you’re dealing with a “hot hand” situation.

4. He doesn’t (always) blame himself

A large majority of golfers are prone to blame the club for a poor shot, but it was interesting to learn that Hovland used to do the opposite. For years, Hovland placed the blame solely on poor mechanics, even during his time in college. It wasn’t until he started working with Ping’s Tour staff, after he turned pro, that he realized a simple gear tweak could solve his problems.

“I used to always think if I was hitting a shot, it was my fault,” Hovland said. “It is to a certain extent, but if you have a club that’s prone to do a certain thing … if you’re trying to hit a slice or cut and you have a club that’s really soft in how it flexes, or it’s shut, that makes it harder to hit that cut shot. It’s amazing the things they can do to help correct those problems. I won’t hesistate to ask [the Ping Tour reps] when I need help”

These days, Hovland leans on Ping’s Tour staff to help him figure potential issues with his gear. During last year’s Memorial, Hovland asked if anything could be done to increase the launch and spin on his irons, without altering the club build. The end result was a custom “bounce grind” that allowed Hovland’s irons to interact more with the ground and get the ball to impact higher on the face.

That’s an extreme example, but it still highlights the importance of having a trusted club-fitter in your corner to help you work through gear issues. Don’t automatically assume your swing is to blame for that slice.

5. Driver has always been his favorite club

Like most kids growing up, Hovland loved pounding driver into oblivion. Not much has changed since he turned pro. The Norwegian is still pummeling the ball with great success, so it should come as no surprise that his favorite club growing up was a Ping Rapture driver.

Hovland was so taken by “this green looking thing,” that he used the driver in every possible situation. Literally.

“I would just pound it everywhere,” he said with a grin. “From the fairway, from the rough — it was unbelieveable.”

Those of us who grew up with a favorite club are probably nodding in agreement. Sure, it probably wasn’t the prudent play to try and attack the green with driver from the rough, but it was our favorite club! You had to give it a shot.

It’s nice to know Hovland grew up trying to pull off the impossible shots with his favorite club in tow.

Want to overhaul your bag for 2021? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf.

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Jonathan Wall

Golf.com

Jonathan Wall is GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com’s Managing Editor for Equipment. Prior to joining the staff at the end of 2018, he spent 6 years covering equipment for the PGA Tour.