Viktor Hovland has an outrageous PGA Championship secret weapon
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was hard to miss Viktor Hovland as he took his first steps onto the walking bridge separating the range from the practice green at Oak Hill. Yes, because Hovland had just vaulted himself into a share of the 36-hole tournament lead, but also because of what he’d worn to do it.
Hovland is long used to his outfits earning the attention — or, far more frequently, the ire — of the golf world. He of the oversized Lilly Pulitzer Masters shirt, of the strikingly deep-V and, more recently, of the Phoenix Suns cosplay.
On Friday at the PGA Championship, Hovland looked like a golfer of a bygone era. Both with the four-birdie, one-bogey finish that pushed him to five under on the tournament, good for a share of the lead; and the orange-and-white ensemble that seemed plucked straight from the vestiges of a 2011 Rickie Fowler catalog.
“I mean, obviously going to Oklahoma State, I like the orange,” Hovland said afterward with a smirk. “I think the orange here on the side was maybe a bit much. I would have just gone for a white shirt. Other than that, I think it’s pretty sweet. The belt is pretty awesome. Yeah, it’s whatever.”
The outfits have become a strange talking point for Hovland, who seems at once careful to avoid responsibility for and entirely unbothered with the social media firestorm that surrounds them. “J. Lindeberg,” Hovland said Thursday of his apparel sponsor, “they give me with this stuff and pay me money to do so, so I just show up and wear what they want me to wear.” And those outfits have now become a major tradition.
In some ways, that’s owed more to Hovland’s play than to his appearance. He quietly enters the weekend at the PGA Championship with back-to-back major top-10s, both of which featured early-round leads. At the Masters, he found himself in the final pairing on Saturday afternoon. At the Open Championship at St. Andrews last summer, Hovland was the player many feared would steal the crown from Rory McIlroy (before Cam Smith eventually did).
Wins have come slowly on the PGA Tour. He has three of them, but all in the few Tour events conducted outside the United States. Still, his 21 top-10s (and 10 top-3 finishes) indicate he’s been closer than his resume indicates.
This PGA Championship has been an exhibition of Hovland’s talents, ones that have been self-evident since he was a national championship-winning player at Oklahoma State. He leads the field in nearly every significant statistical category for a ball-striker’s ballpark like Oak Hill — first in strokes gained: tee-to-green, strokes gained: approach and proximity to the hole. Mentally, he says, he’s sharper now too, the beneficiary of so many near-misses.
“I think that’s been because I’ve just been a little bit young and stupid,” he said. “Just going after some pins that I’m not supposed to go for even though I’m feeling good about my ball-striking and it’s easy to just feel like, yeah, I’m going to take it right at it and make a birdie here. Then you hit a
decent shot, and then you’re short-sided and make bogey or double, and you just can’t do that in major championship golf.”
Instead, he’s found a different strategy — one that sounds awfully familiar to a whole lot of major champions that have come before him.
“You just have to wear out center of the green,” Hovland says. “If that putter gets hot, you can make some birdies.”
But it’s possible, too, that there’s another advantage built into Hovland’s major championship makeup. Forgive us if this sounds too brash, but it just might have something to do with his outfit.
No, it’s not quite Phil Mickelson and the performative powers of the color black, but there’s something revealing about Hovland’s own approach to the attention paid to his eye-catching outfits — something that might prove helpful as he heads into the weekend at Oak Hill in search of his first major title.
As he crossed the walking bridge early Friday evening, Hovland responded to a reporter’s comment about the mixed reactions to his outfits.
“I don’t give a s–t, anyway.”