Viktor Hovland contending with borrowed driver in Mayakoba
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Defending champion's usual driver shaft 'in pieces' after speed-training mishap
Written by Adam Stanley @adam_stanley
Viktor Hovland's crafty chip leads to birdie at Mayakoba
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Danny Lee is certainly not the first golfer on the PGA TOUR who is trying to chase a little more speed with his driver.
But he may be the first to cause a bit of a last-minute panic by one of his fellow TOUR members after just one swing.
Wednesday afternoon at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, Lee, who finished T2 last week at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, was in the middle of a speed-training session. He was getting up to about 185 m.p.h. ball speed but Viktor Hovland, who was next to him, wanted to see how much more speed Lee could generate with his driver – which is about an inch longer.
Lee stepped on one, and the shaft shattered.
“That was very unexpected,” said Lee. “I felt so sorry for him. If I had a spare driver, I would have given it to him, but I didn’t.”
“I just looked up after he hit the shot and it was in pieces,” said Hovland.
Enter James Hahn, who had another Ping G-425 driver to nearly the same specs as Hovland’s usual gamer.
“(Hovland) kept hitting it on the driving range and surprisingly he was hitting great with it,” said Lee.
Kenton Oates, who is a PGA TOUR rep for Ping, said the driver Hovland put into play on Thursday was the same model, same loft, and had the same swing weight – with a slightly different shaft – as Hovland’s usual driver.
“You give something pretty close to a guy like Viktor and he’ll figure it out,” said Oates.
Hovland didn’t seem to have a problem with it. The defending champion in Mexico fired an opening-round 4-under 67 and missed only two fairways – both, he said, when he didn’t actually hit driver.
“It's a little bit shorter, it's a different shaft, but honestly, almost helped me this week because it's a little shorter,” said Hovland. “It probably goes 10 yards shorter, but I just felt like I could really hit it a little lower and a little straighter. So I'm hitting that thing really well.”
Hovland, who was fifth on TOUR last season in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, ventured to another golf course in the area to try the new driver on Wednesday into different winds. But it was a quick learning session for Hovland.
“As soon as I ... hit a couple with it, I was like, ‘This feels pretty nice. I think I can work with this,’" said Hovland.
Oates said Hovland’s driving has always impressed him and Hovland’s consistent shot shape has been combined with a gain of nearly 6 m.p.h. of ball speed since he joined the TOUR.
Oates said because the break -- which happened because Lee has such an aggressive recoil on his driver swing -- occurred in Mexico, it created a unique situation for the Ping team. If this was next week's Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, Oates said, the two-time TOUR winner would have had a new driver in about 20 minutes.
Oates said Ping staffer Taylor Moore, who was in Mexico hoping to get into the field as an alternate, was also willing to provide a suitable replacement to Hovland.
After the driving performance Hovland put on in the opening round at El Camaleón Mayakoba Golf Course, Oates laughed when he was asked if Hovland may consider Hahn’s specs when he gets fit into some new Ping stuff next year.
“Dude, next year? If he’s hitting it like this it might be next week,” said Oates. “You play this game, and a lot of times guys may be out with their friends and say, ‘you know, I hit so-and-so club.’ This is a different situation, but it does happen (on TOUR) and that ends up being the best fitting process.”
While it all worked out in the end for Hovland (and Lee, who opened with a solid 3-under 68) will Lee still try to make it up to Hovland somehow?
“In the future,” said Lee, “I’ll give him something for sure.”