Viktor Hovland’s 2023 was a lifetime in the making

viktor hovland tips cap to crowd at tour championship while a photographer takes photo

Viktor Hovland's turbulent '23 ended in triumphant fashion.

Jason Allen/Getty

Ah, 2023. The year everything changed … again. For the second straight year, we left 2023 with a drastically different perspective of professional golf than we entered. Now, as we look back at the year that was — with LIV major championships, Ryder Cup controversies and oh so many other storieswe’re remembering the 15 biggest moments that defined the year in golf. Let’s get digging.

Biggest Golf Moments of 2023 No. 15: Viktor Hovland’s arrival

For a long while in 2023, it seemed Viktor Hovland’s year would be defined by heartbreak.

At times in each of the five majors contested between July 2022 and July 2023, Hovland found himself thoroughly in the hunt for his first career big one. But then the 2023 major season ended at Royal Liverpool at the end of July, and Hovland’s trophy case was still empty.

Sure, he’d landed 36-hole leads at the Masters and PGA Championship. Sure, he’d played in late-Sunday groupings at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. But the most he’d had to show for playing some of the best golf of anyone alive as a still-green 20-something was a firm handshake from Jack Nicklaus after a thrilling victory at the Memorial Tournament. Epic? Yes. Reverential? Yes. Legacy-building? Not quite.

Worse yet, each of those major championship failures followed a similar blueprint. Hovland would start the week off flying high, blowing away the field with his ball-striking prowess en route to an early lead. He would say all of the right things about playing well in big moments — he had to “wear out the center of the green” and “take his two-putts” when they came — but then the weekend would arrive, and something would go horribly awry.

The last of those struggles came at Royal Liverpool, when Hovland watched hopelessly as another player, Brian Harman, employed a similar early-week approach to four days’ worth of success, cashing in with his first major victory and a Claret Jug. Another year was over, and Vik was still majorless.

Hovland left Hoylake at a low, but he didn’t stay there for long. Just weeks after the conclusion of the major season, he was due in Memphis for the beginning of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and he played well enough to advance through the FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his T13 finish charting a path forward to the following week’s BMW Championship, the penultimate event of the Tour season.

In Chicago, Hovland found the gear he’d been missing. After three rounds in the 60s, he fired an impossibly good final-round 61 to win the tournament by two, securing a mega payday and a significant confidence boost.

“I hadn’t given it much thought, but I don’t think I have to think too long,” Hovland said then. “It definitely has to be the best round I’ve ever played. Given the circumstances, the playoff event at this golf course, finishing the way I did the last nine holes was pretty special.”

A week later, Hovland went back-to-back. At the Tour Championship, he channeled the same genius again, firing a final-round 63 this time to win the biggest tournament of his life. Hovland at just 26, was the Tour’s top golfer of the year. After a season in which the big moments had turned into dust, he had finally secured a big-time win. The victory was nice, but his approach to the $18 million payday was even nicer.

“Obviously it’s a lot of cash you’re playing for. I mean, it’s in the back of your mind,” he said, pausing for a beat. “But I live in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Money goes a long ways there.”

There was more. A few weeks later, Hovland found himself boarding a flight to Rome later in September for his second-ever Ryder Cup. He was riding the hottest streak of his career, and even the most casual observer knew he was a necessary piece of a European victory. The pressure was on again. How would he respond?

Viktor Hovland’s unique offseason reminds us why he’s easy to root for
By: Dylan Dethier

Only by being an absolute terror for the Europeans — pouring in putts from everywhere and throwing fist pumps that made the earth shake. With the Euros smelling blood early on Saturday morning, Hovland and Ryder Cup rookie Ludvig Aberg found themselves in an alternate shot pairing alongside a pair of proper American blue bloods — Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka. Their match was over before it even started. Hovland and Aberg didn’t just beat Scheffler and Koepka, they embarrassed them, a 9-and-7 shellacking that proved the largest margin of victory in Ryder Cup history. The European romp was on, and Hovland was at the center of it.

As he spoke from the 14th hole after opening up the European scoring during Sunday’s singles matches, a reporter asked Hovland how he’d managed to keep his composure all week in Rome. He’d been a revelation for the Euros all week, going 3-1-1 in five matches and entrenching himself as a force for the Europeans heading forward.

He paused as he pondered the answer, reflecting back on a year that had brought him from the doldrums of major championship heartbreak to the heights of Ryder Cup superstardom. The common thread, he said, was simple.

“I think we’re just trying to take care of business,” he said. “Maybe that’s what guys are doing. They are keeping their heads down and just letting the clubs do the talking.”

Exit mobile version