Viktor Hovland understands rain and wind and worse. He grew up in Norway, after all. For him, playing a golf course on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is a pleasure, even after a torrential rain. Maybe that’s why he’s won there twice and is licking his chops at the chance to three-peat.
"“It’s a special place. I loved it even before winning it two times,” he said about the location. “It was the first time I played a PGA TOUR event. To come back here as a two-time champion is very special.”"
Rain may affect the scores this week as it has softened the course somewhat. Hovland noted that the course was playing firmer prior to the downpours. But no matter the weather, Hovland has shown this year, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and at The Players, that he can handle tough conditions. Though he was not victorious at either event, but he was tenacious in wind and rain, posting high finishes.
As many people know, Hovland continues to live in Oklahoma where he went to college at Oklahoma State University. He was on the 2018 NCAA Championship Team and enjoys going back to visit with players who are still there, with the coaches, and, no doubt, with friends he made while a student.
"“I feel like for me to hit it really straight and hit the fairways, I’ve got to hit that low ball and preferably a little bit left to right…” Viktor Hovland"
One thing he does in Stillwater is practice at Karsten Creek which was named the best new public course in the US by Golf Digest the year it opened. The course was named after the late Karsten Solheim, founder of PING, because of Solheim’s support for Oklahoma State.
"“In Oklahoma where I play every day, I play Karsten Creek, and it’s kind of a bigger version than Mayakoba,” Hovland explained. “It’s a little longer, it’s a little wider off the tee, but it’s kind of the same premise, you have crap on both sides so you’ve got to keep the ball straight.”"
It is perhaps not the way Karsten Creek’s designer Tom Fazio would explain the course layout, but that’s Hovland’s description.
And while coastal courses are known to have wind, according to Viktor Hovland, it’s not nearly as strong a wind at Mayakoba as in Oklahoma. Plus he has a go-to shot.
"“I feel like for me to hit it really straight and hit the fairways, I’ve got to hit that low ball and preferably a little bit left to right because that’s when I know I’m just never going to miss it left.”"
Viktor Hovland recalled last year at Mayakoba where the wind was blowing in and off the right every round.
“Instead of having to aim right over in the trees and trust that the wind is going to take it over there, which it’s easy to do in the practice,” he said about the 18th tee shot.
“I aim at that left bunker and just kind of carve it off and hit the fairway.” – Viktor Hovland
Viktor Hovland believes returning to Mayakoba helps him see that shot a lot better than he has recently. And more importantly, he trusts the feel of the shot.
He’s also made to feel like a hero when he returns. There are pictures of him on billboards promoting the tournament all along the roadways.
“I think it’s cool. I definitely feel welcomed when I come back here,” he added.
While Mayakoba is currently in the fall season on the PGA Tour schedule, nobody knows what the fall will look like for 2023. The official schedule only goes through August. However, there will be some tournaments between then and the start of 2024.
That break is a long one, four months in all. For sure Hovland won’t take that much time away from golf.
"“I’ve never taken four months completely off of golf,” he insisted. “Growing up in Norway, as soon as the summer season kind of ended and the golf courses closed, I was the first one to kind of go into the indoor hitting bay and just pound balls for four months straight.”"
He said while it’s not the best practice, he feels like he has to be working on his game, somehow, every day. But, during that break, he may be able to go back to Europe in the fall and play some events on the DP World Tour.
“I don’t know how my schedule’s going to look like, but I’ll definitely have to do something,” he said.
This week, Viktor Hovland is hoping for a three-peat, and with two back-to-back victories already at this event, who is to say he won’t do it? Steve Stricker was the last to win the same event three times in a row, and that was at the John Deere Classic.
Eighteen other golfers have done the tournament hat trick, beginning with Jamie Anderson at the British Open from 1877 to 1879. Others who have matched the three-of-a-kind include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, and, of course, Tiger Woods.