Mature Viktor Hovland wins the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday
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Playing conservatively, didn’t make worse than bogey all week
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
DUBLIN, Ohio – Viktor Hovland had a flaw.
His coach, Joseph Mayo, who teaches at The Summit Club for Discovery Land Company in Las Vegas, saw it as soon as they joined forces for the first time at the start of this year.
“I’m watching this kid hit his ball into places where Harry Houdini couldn’t get it up and down,” Mayo said by phone after Hovland beat Denny McCarthy with a par on the first hole of a playoff to capture the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday. “I said, ‘Your strategy is too hyper.’
“But I couldn’t quantify it at the time,” Mayo added. “I wish I had, because he might be sitting on three wins this year. We needed Dodo (DP World Tour player and statistician Edoardo Molinari) for that.”
In a word, Hovland was undisciplined. Impetuous. Reckless.
To watch him Sunday, when he came back from a four-shot deficit on the back nine, the most indelible stroke being his birdie on 17 – the only one of the day on that hole – you would never know it. Nor would you know it from the fact that he never made worse than a bogey all week on a major championship-hard, baked-out Muirfield Village.
You wouldn’t know it as he made clutch par putts on 18, first from 5 1/2 feet in regulation to get to 7 under and pressure leader McCarthy, then from just under 7 feet in the playoff to win it.
Viktor Hovland wins in a playoff at the Memorial
But Hovland had that flaw, and not that long ago, either. After winning the Memorial, sitting next to tournament host Jack Nicklaus, he laughed as he described Mayo being in “agonizing pain” while watching him play.
“He suggested basically, ‘Hey, I think our course management or our strategy is not very good,’” Hovland said. “And that's when he reached out to Edoardo Molinari, who does my stats, and basically they just crunched some numbers and basically saw the stats kind of tell the same story.
“So yeah, just a little bit different strategy,” he continued, “and particularly wedges to – or pitching wedge to 8-irons is where I'm way more conservative, especially at a golf course like this when the greens become very firm and fast and you put the pins on the edges; you just can't afford to go for 'em.”
What Molinari found when he ran the numbers was alarming but also hugely helpful.
“Dodo said a great iron player is short-siding himself 15% of the time,” Mayo said. “Viktor was twice that. You can’t outrun that. I showed him the data, and he said, ‘Wow.’”
Viktor Hovland | Swing Theory | Driver, iron, wedge
Finally, Mayo could quantify what he was seeing, and Hovland, 25, could see it plain as day. He was beating himself. So began the rapid maturation of this uber-talent out of Norway, who on Sunday won for the first time on the U.S. mainland. It was his fourth PGA TOUR title and moved him to fourth in the FedExCup.
“I told him, ‘It’s not a birdie contest,’” Mayo said. “‘This is a double-bogey-avoidance contest. At Oklahoma State, you could out-hit those guys, but you’re not going to outhit Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler. You have to outthink them, start playing chess.’ It was also about how he reacts.
“A bogey hurts one shot,” Mayo continued. “But how you react to it can cost you multiple shots.”
To be sure, Hovland 2.0 didn’t happen overnight. He shot a final-round 75 to finish T10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard in March.
“He gave that tournament away,” Mayo said.
But it soon became clear that Hovland was inching toward something. He finished T3 at THE PLAYERS Championship, T7 at the Masters Tournament, T2 at the PGA Championship.
It wasn’t just that he was rethinking his strategy. Renowned for his ball-striking and especially his driving, Hovland also was taking an unsparing look at his short game under Mayo. This, too, was paying dividends. Asked if the old version of himself could have won the Memorial, Hovland said no.
Viktor Hovland’s news conference after winning the Memorial
“I didn't have the short game that I have now,” he said. “So, when you do end up on the downslope and you need to be able to spin the ball or slow the ball down, I just couldn't do that.”
This resulted in what he called “a double whammy” – aiming at pins he couldn’t resist (short-siding himself twice as much as the best players) and then being unable to save himself.
“But this week,” he said, “I told myself that when I'm out of position, just play for the fatter part of the green and if I miss the green, I still have a shot where I can roll the ball up or slow the ball down enough to get it close to the pin. I knew this was kind of going to be a competition of not making any double bogeys or making too many mistakes.”
His caddie, Shay Knight, has seen a big transformation.
“He’s been playing really well for a long time,” Knight said. “What he did at the PGA, finally playing well on a Sunday, gave him a lot of confidence moving forward. It showed today.”
So, too, did his new maturity.
Hovland's winning putt called by Norwegian broadcasters
“We were out of position a lot,” Knight said. “There were times in the past where he would have tried to go for it. But he stayed really patient today and did what he did. It was awesome.”
Added Hovland, whose next start will come in similarly tough conditions at the U.S. Open, “You’ve just got to stay within yourself and keep fighting, and sometimes it works out like it did today.”
Especially when you leave the Harry Houdini act at home.
Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.