How did Viktor Hovland gain nearly 10 yards off the tee? His club fitter explains
11 Min Read
Escrito por GolfWRX @GolfWRX
Viktor Hovland is the newest FedExCup champion at age 25, going back-to-back at the BMW Championship and TOUR Championship in a torrid August.
Hovland won twice in his first 25 starts as a TOUR member, quickly proving his merit in elite professional golf, but vast improvements in two areas – driving and chipping – have propelled him to superstar status.
Hovland has increased his driving distance by 8.3 yards from his rookie season (2019-20) to the current 2022-23 campaign. He now averages 307.6 yards off the tee, compared to 299.3 as a rookie. He’s also improved from 168th to 93rd in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green across the same span.
The Norwegian didn’t have many holes in his game when he turned pro in 2019, but he has worked to fill those small gaps, with the help of strategic equipment decisions.
Following Hovland’s victory at the TOUR Championship, Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates – who has worked closely with Hovland on his equipment since joining the Ping staff – shared insights on changes made to Hovland’s driver to create more distance, how he matched his wedge bounce to optimize technical improvements that he’s made around the greens and more.
Andrew Tursky, GolfWRX.com: From when you first started working with Viktor, compared to now, how have things changed for him in regard to equipment? Whether it’s equipment knowledge or how he tests clubs, what has changed over the years?
Kenton Oates: I think the biggest thing that’s changed for Viktor over our four-year relationship is that he’s just become a lot more of a dynamic player overall. Not only from the fact that he’s gained comfortably 8 mph pretty easily with his driver. That’s made him a bit more dynamic. But he’s also been able to hit a lot more shots.
When we first met, Viktor was a kid who hit that pull-cut shot every single time, and he was super, super consistent with it. But as he’s unlocked his speed, he’s also unlocked a swing that’s allowed him to – he hits draws now with his irons at times. And even with his driver, he’ll hit draws at times. So he’s got more shots, and he’s got a bigger weapon going in with the driver.
He’s overall just a more dynamic golfer than he was four years ago.
GolfWRX.com: Would you call him a gear head? Does he care about equipment?
Oates: He definitely cares. I mean, I think he cares to the point where he wants it to be right, and he has very specific needs that he wants met. Once those needs are met, I think he’s all good. He’s not a guy who’s constantly knocking on the door to test, on a weekly basis.
GolfWRX.com: You mentioned the driver speed increase. I know you guys have worked on driver length in the past. How has that work gone with the driver this year, and what do you attribute the big speed gain to?
Oates: The big speed gain is pretty simple to attribute to. When the G425 driver came out (in 2021), he was able to go from a 44.75-inch driver in his G410, to a 45.75-inch driver in the 425.
The 425 had a bit more left bias, so that’s what helped unlock the extra length. I think that’s probably 5 mph of his gain right there, and then the other 3-5 mph is just the hard work that he’s put in.
He does speed training, and he works out a bunch. He’s 25 years old now, so you kind of get that man strength as you get into those mid-to-late 20s.
GolfWRX.com: Any tips you can share about Viktor’s training regimen to pick up speed?
Oates: I know that for a while he did use The Stack System. I’m not sure where he’s at right now, but he did use that. He’s obviously in the gym quite a bit, gaining functional strength for golf. But at one point he was doing The Stack System, and sometimes I think he goes out and grabs 20-30 balls and hits them as hard as he can and kind of has no regard for where they’re going. I’m sure even when he does that, they’re pretty straight.
Yeah, he just hits that bleeding cut shot with the driver and never misses.
When he gets locked in and hits that shot over and over again, just look out. Because he’s not going to miss.
GolfWRX.com: I know they’re not Ping products, but when it comes to the fairway wood and driving iron, I think he’s done some bouncing around in that section of the bag. And I know he used a 7-wood for a bit. What’s the work been like with him when it comes to fairway woods and driving irons?
Oates: Yeah, the 7-wood, I built him one at Augusta just thinking it would be a great club for him, because he does struggle with height at times with his irons. He’s an under-spinner in general just due to how shallow he is. So I thought it would be a great club. I remember bringing it to him on the range on Monday, and I swear the way he looked at me and talked to me about it, I was like, “There’s no way he’s playing this club.”
I walked away, and I was just like, “There’s no chance.”
Then I remember on Tuesday night, he texted me, “Man, this club is awesome, I can’t wait to play it.”
And I was like, “Wait, what?”
I don’t really have much intel, but I know he liked the extra height and forgiveness of it.
There is a shot, you can go back on the Masters app, on 13 on Saturday morning during the restart, he hits it, and you can hear him audibly dislike it, but the ball ends up about 14 feet away. That’s like a 7-wood commercial right there.
GolfWRX.com: So with the irons, did he experiment with the Blueprint S but then went back to the i210s?
Oates: Yeah, he did. He arrived in Scotland, and we had a set of Blueprint S irons for him. He was super excited about them. He loved the way they looked, and he loved the way they went through the ground. Then whatever happened on Thursday, he didn’t play his best; I think he was coming from a Norway vacation, so I’m not sure I would attribute that all to the irons. But he went back to the i210s and finished out the rest of the year with those.
I think he will test Blueprint S again in the future, that would be my guess.
GolfWRX.com: As of now, he still has the i210s in the bag. Why do you think those irons have matched up well with him?
Oates: I think it really is that low center of gravity, and that higher spin rate the iron produces. He is such a shallow player. At times, he can under-spin it, and not get enough peak height. The 210s do spin quite a bit, because of the nature of the design, and they’re also a very straight-flying club. Some guys see curve and some guys don’t. I would say Viktor is a guy who doesn’t. He sees little curves, and he takes off distance by curving it more, but he’s a pretty straight ball hitter, and those irons allow him to be a straight ball hitter.
GolfWRX.com: I saw a video floating around social media of Viktor hitting some flop shots, and you made an appearance in the video. It reminded me of how big of an improvement he’s made in his chipping and wedge game in general since the beginning of his career. What improvements has he made, and have you done anything differently with the bounce or grinds of his wedges?
Oates: Massive improvement. I think being club fitters, we’re more on the back-half of that conversation. Him and Joe Mayo (Hovland’s coach) are the ones putting in the work and changing the technique, but as the technique changes, we always have to come in and address, as your technique changes, we’re hopefully going to be able to open up more shots.
In the video you’re referencing, you can tell that wedge face is laid wide open. Dead on the ground and making perfect contact. Well, if you want to be a player who lays the club more open at address, those are the type of players who can benefit from less bounce. The more you open it, the more you’re exposing the bounce.
That fact isn’t talked about as much in the bounce conversation in the amateur world.
Sometimes, you might see a guy that plays low bounce, and you can say, “I don’t think he needs that.” Or, “I don’t think he needs that because he doesn’t play here or there.”
Well, if you’re a player that opens the face up a bunch – Sahith Theegala comes to mind, because he opens it up a ton. It wouldn’t matter if he played soft conditions his whole life. It wouldn’t matter. When you open up that much, you’re exposing that bounce so much.
Now Viktor plays with the same wedge model he used to play with, but it was a 58-degree bent to 60 degrees before. Every time you bend a club weak, it’s a 1:1 ratio (weakening the club 1 degree adds 1 degree of bounce).
So we were just trying to give him some protection (with the extra 2 degrees of bounce). The credit I’ll give Viktor is that even when he wasn’t chipping well, he never was a kid who was going to run from the shot. If the shot required you to open the face dead up, and hit a flop shot, he was always like, “I’m going to try and hit it.”
To his credit, that takes a lot of guts to do that. A lot of guys would say to themselves, “Well, I’m one of the best ball-strikers in the world. When I get in that situation two times out of 72 holes, I’m just going to play with more of a square face, and hit it to 15-20 feet, make my bogey, and go birdie the next three holes.”
He’s always wanted to be an elite chipper, and I think the attitude of just wanting to become an average chipper was never in his head, so he did need a club with less bounce. With his technique, in the past, we needed to give him more protection by adding that bounce.
As he’s progressed, in this year, around THE PLAYERS Championship, or maybe around Augusta, we went to the same wedge he’d been playing, but now it’s the 60-degree model. So it has 2 degrees less of bounce, allowing the club to sit that much flatter to the ground when he opens it and hit the kind of shot that you saw in that video.
GolfWRX.com: What do you think the issue was with his chipping? Was it angle of attack, or just struggling to find a consistent low point?
Oates: I think when you are too shallow in your chipping, you struggle to (find a consistent low point). He’s a little bit too shallow, and then at that point, you just don’t have much angle, so you give yourself no room for error. As you get steeper, he now has more room for error and can find that low point better being more on top of it.
GolfWRX.com: I’m sure you don’t work much with him on his putter much, but do you have any tidbits on his putter?
Oates: The putter is what he’s played almost his entire career as a Ping staff player. And it’s the same one, by the way. It’s a one-of-one. He did change the grip one time – recently, actually – but that’s the same putter head. He unfortunately broke the putter a few years ago and we had to reshaft it.
It’s kind of cool for us, because that’s when we were starting PLD (Putting Lab Design), and it wasn’t known to the level it is now to the public. When he came in, he had a TaylorMade putter that he liked, and we worked off that model. He walked around and looked at every Ping putter we ever made, and he threw out ideas of what he might like to see, and that’s how he got to that putter. I’m not sure if he’ll ever putt with another putter in his life, that’s how I feel at this point.
Winning $25 million in 2023 will probably give it some leeway in the bag.
GolfWRX.com: Yeah, seriously. Do you have any other insights into Hovland’s equipment, or in general?
Oates: I just think the coolest thing about Viktor is how he goes about his whole process of being a professional golfer. Of our Ping guys – and not that they aren’t all in – but Viktor is all-in on what he does. He doesn’t really look around at trends, or other people doing this or that, he kind of just puts his head down. I think he’s truly that kid who has gotten one percent better per year, and he’s been benefitting from that. It’s awesome to see.