Viktor Hovland is chasing adventure and mystery (plus a better golf swing)

We caught up with Viktor Hovland in Stillwater, Okla., the college town he still calls home.

We caught up with Viktor Hovland in Stillwater, Okla., the college town he still calls home.

Christopher McEniry

Viktor Hovland is the cover star of the July issue of GOLF Magazine, where this story was originally published.

Little by little, Viktor Hovland is running into the realities of adulthood.

“The times that I go home, it’s nice to see everyone, but it kind of gets boring as well because I don’t necessarily have a life there anymore,” he says with a sigh.

He’s talking about Oslo, Norway. We’re sitting in Stillwater, Okla., in the locker room at Karsten Creek GC. Hovland lived in Oslo until his matriculation, and then, starting in 2016, at Oklahoma State, where he played three years for the Cowboys. He has just shown me around the place, which is a shrine to the OSU golf program, the walls filled with photos and trophies from decades of collegiate dominance. The 2018 season is prominently featured, and with good reason: Karsten hosted the NCAA Championships that year and OSU took home the title, sweeping Alabama 5–0 in the final. Later that summer, Hovland won the U.S. Amateur. He turned pro the following year and never looked back, earning his PGA Tour card and rocketing into pro golf’s top tier.

Now, four years later, Hovland — 25 years old and ranked No. 5 in the world — still hasn’t moved from his college town. That’s a stark contrast to his Tour peers, many of whom are just a year older but could be a decade (the day we met I checked the ranking to find five 26-year-olds in the top 20, all of them married). There’s a refreshing freeness to the hours Hovland can spend listening to podcasts and playing online poker. He’s 25! But he’s hardly the Van Wilder of Oklahoma State, back for another year of college. Quite the opposite: he’s stayed in Stillwater for the stability.

“When you turn pro and start traveling, you don’t see a lot of the same people you used to,” he says. “You’re used to your college teammates and the college coaches, and now everything’s kind of on your own.”

A conversation with Hovland reveals a golfer who is distinctly different. Not just because of his taste in music (heavy metal) or tourney attire (heavy orange) or his on-course demeanor (heavy smiles), but because of his innate curiosity. That’s what inspired a 22-hour road trip to Lofoten Links, a course 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle, after last summer’s Open Championship. That’s what sparks his love of golf-swing deep dives, where his explanation of excessive pelvic rotation includes a reference to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Viktor Hovland in the locker room at Karsten Creek.
Viktor Hovland in the locker room at Karsten Creek. Christopher McEniry

I ask him if he thinks people have gotten to know him from all his TV exposure. “Not really,” he says. I ask him to describe himself. “I’d like to think of myself as a thinker,” he says. I ask him for his bucket list. He says most things on his bucket list aren’t golf-related, citing travel — and mystery.

“Mysteries get my attention a little bit,” he says. “I just like learning, figuring stuff out.”

A week later I watch him come off the course at Oak Hill, where he’s just birdied the 72nd hole to finish T2 at the PGA Championship, earning a check for $1.54 million. He looks dejected. This is his best major result yet, but after going toe-to-toe with Brooks Koepka for four hours before making double bogey at No. 16, he’s devastated to have blinked first. Still, he’s proud of the fight and proud that his short game — typically his Achilles’ heel — held up under immense pressure.

And he’s excited that there’s another major just weeks away.

“I think we’re gonna get one of these soon,” he says. There’s no team of handlers waiting for him as he leaves the stage. It’s just Viktor.

Viktor Hovland is the cover star of this month's GOLF Magazine.
Viktor Hovland is the cover star of this month’s GOLF Magazine. Christopher McEniry

In that moment he has no idea what’s ahead. He doesn’t know that he’ll contend the following week at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He doesn’t know that he’ll get across the line the week after that, not just at any tournament but at the Memorial, among the Tour’s toughest tests, making a clutch up-and-down to get into a playoff and then capturing a victory that redefines his career up to this point. A big check comes with it. Bigger expectations are sure to follow. If he allows them to catch him.

He skirts a metal barrier and skips up toward the clubhouse, ready to go and ready for what’s next, the orange of his shirt aglow as he slips into the night.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.