Viktor Hovland’s unique offseason reminds us why he’s easy to root for
The worst part of success, Bette Midler once said, is trying to find someone who is happy for you.
But then, Midler had never met Viktor Hovland.
Hovland showed up at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai this week, making his first tournament appearance since he helped lead Team Europe to a resounding Ryder Cup victory in Rome.
A month before that, Hovland went on a tear through the FedEx Cup Playoffs, winning twice, including a Tour Championship victory worth $18 million. He’s up to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and even that feels low. He’s fine-tuned his game, turning his short-game weaknesses into strengths in a matter of months. By any metric I can think of, Viktor Hovland is experiencing success. But whatever Midler says, Tuesday’s press conference was a reminder that it’s tough not to be happy for him.
Hovland’s six weeks off post-Rome, he said, included three without touching a club. That’s unusual for him — he’s always feared his game would disappear — but when he returned to Oklahoma and got a club in his hand again, that game didn’t take long to come back.
“I felt like the techniques, I know what to do; that even after some time off, it doesn’t feel that far off,” he said.
He missed it, too. That’s one reason it’s easy to be happy for Hovland: he, like most of his fans, seems to have a genuine love for the game he plays.
“I was surprisingly bored,” he said of his time away. “I enjoy playing golf. I don’t have to be at the golf course six hours a day just grinding, it’s almost therapeutic just going out there hitting balls for 45 minutes and go home. It’s nice to go out and do something.”
It’s also easy to be happy for Hovland because he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
He’s taken advantage of the PGA Tour’s quieter fall schedule to visit his home country of Norway, and while he downplayed his celebrity, dismissing comparisons to countryman and Premier League star Erling Haaland, he did admit he’s been getting noticed.
“It does seem like a lot of people are following and paying attention to what I’m doing, which I think is really cool,” he said. “I usually ask the follow-up question, ‘Do you play golf,’ and a surprising number of times, they will say, ‘I don’t golf.’ I think that’s really cool because I think for the most part, the people that watch golf are people that play golf.
“So if we can get more people that don’t necessarily play golf to watch it, I think that’s a really good start.”
It’s easy to be happy for Hovland because he has a genuine curiosity for the world, a curiosity that the tunnel vision of professional sports so often quashes in his peers.
“I really like listening to podcasts,” he said, describing the ways he spent his time off. “I try to learn as much as I can and try to — I haven’t really read any books in my entire life, so I kind of wanted to take up reading a little bit more and just, yeah, learn some more things.”
What kind of podcasts?
“A lot of self-improvement stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of biohackers out there. Just always try to optimize the things that I can do. If I want to recover better, what can I do to recover better? How do you sleep better? Just random little things like that. How can you supplement better? Then some history stuff, and then exploring kind of mysteries of the world, y’know, pyramids in Egypt.”
Hovland may be highest on the list of pro golfers most interested in the origins of the Egyptian pyramids. He may also be highest on the list of players most likely to go try to solve those mysteries firsthand.
“I was in Malta over the break and they have a lot of ancient temples there,” he continued. “Just learn more about history, where we all come from. It’s not something that I feel like a lot of people think about, where we come from, but it’s just a crazy question, and the more you think about it, the crazier it gets. It’s just interesting.”
It’s easy to be happy for Hovland because he seems to be taking full advantage of the ease of life that comes with being a megamillionaire while also remaining relatively apathetic to the size of his actual bank account. He seems to have a clear understanding of the benefits of money while also understanding that money does not on its own deliver meaning.
“I mean, I knew FedEx Cup was $18 million but I really didn’t have an idea how much I made this year,” Hovland said. “And yeah, it’s cool, it’s nice to have, I don’t mind it. But when I’m sitting here and especially after the Ryder Cup and I’m just looking over the year, it’s the moments that we had in Rome, that was incredible, and then just looking back to, hey, I won three times this year, big-time events. I’m really proud of the way I won those events.”
Asked what he might consider as an offseason splurge, Hovland couldn’t come up with anything particularly materialistic.
“I took my mom to a restaurant in Malta and we went there and hung out and ate good food and checked out some places and went sightseeing a little bit,” he said.
If dinner with his mom was the big-ticket item, I’m guessing he still has some money left over.
Big-picture, it’s easy to be happy for Hovland because he doesn’t seem to care whether you are or not. To return to that Midler quote, he’s not trying to find someone who’s happy for him. He’s busy trying to find out how they built the pyramids. He’s busy road-tripping to the Arctic Circle. He’s busy experimenting and exploring and taking full advantage of his success. And he seems to be experiencing more success all the while.
This is the best Hovland has ever played; not only has he made every cut since July of 2022 but he’s stacked up wins, too, and contended on tougher courses in bigger tournaments. He finished T3 at this year’s Players, T7 at the Masters, T2 at the PGA, top 20s at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. And then statement victories at the Memorial, the BMW, the Tour Championship.
“I put so much pressure on myself to play perfect golf because I felt like I had to play perfect golf to win tournaments,” Hovland remembered. “But I don’t believe that I have to do that anymore. It’s almost like, yes, there’s more expectations because I know what I’m capable of doing but at the same time, if I don’t play to that level, I’m not going to freak out, either.
“There’s a sense of calmness.”
It’s easy to be happy for someone who’s calm. It’s easy to be happy for Hovland. And it’s okay to be a little bit jealous, too.