Viktor Hovland, possibly Norway’s most famous golfer ever, credited changes in his course management and an improved short game for his win at The Memorial.
“It feels really cool to get my first win on the U.S. soil, especially at a tournament like this where this week the golf course is arguably harder than most major championship golf courses we play,” Hovland said in his post-round press conference.
He cited U.S. soil because, technically, his other PGA Tour titles were in Mexico or offshore.
What helped Hovland get into the winner’s circle in the continental U.S. was primarily a mathematical look at his game.
“I’ve always seemed to play okay, make the cut, but then make a couple of birdies throughout the round, but I would always kind of short-side myself,” he explained about previous visits to The Memorial. “I didn’t have the short game that I have right now, so when you do end up on the down slope and you need to be able to spin the ball or slow the ball down, I just couldn’t do that.”
"“Not to break your ego, but I don’t think there’s too many people that know about you,” Hovland said to Jack Nicklaus and assembled media when asked about Nicklaus’ popularity in Norway, a winter sport country."
What Viktor Hovland also learned to do was to play more conservatively.
When he got out of position, instead of going for the pin, he learned to go for the middle of the green or someplace on the green instead of trying to get absolutely as close to the hole as possible. In other words, he finally learned that when he’s in trouble, sometimes success is about setting up the next shot.
“I knew this was kind of going to be a competition of not making any double bogeys,” he added about The Memorial.
With greens that were so dried out that people were saying water would probably roll off of them instead of into the soil, golfers had their work cut out for them at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
One thing that helped Viktor Hovland was the addition of a couple of experts to his team, particularly instructor, Joe Mayo, who he said he has known for a long time.
Mayo has been posting instructional material to YouTube for more than ten years in conjunction with former Tour player Grant Waite. Prior to that, Mayo was an instructor at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.
When they first started their student-teacher relationship, Mayo watched Hovland play what Hovland described as some painful golf. He then suggested that Hovland needed a change in course management, a new strategy for playing golf in general.
Enter the work of Italian golfer Edoardo Molinari, a former U.S. Amateur winner as well as a vice-captain for this year’s Ryder Cup being played in Italy. His brother Francesco Molinari is a former British Open champ.
In addition to being half of a great brother act, Edoardo collects Hovland’s stats and does golf number crunching. As it happens, Molinari’s numbers showed exactly what Mayo pointed out.
“So, yeah, just a little bit different strategy,” Viktor Hovland explained about the changes in approach to golf.
"“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.”"
Hovland cited a shot on the 12th hole where he was over the green on a severe side slope.
“I had a pretty nice lie and I just tried to get a little too cute,” he admitted. “It was a very similar shot to that I had on 18 on Saturday where I hit it over the green.”
He said he should have taken his medicine and just figured out how to get the ball on the green, but instead, he tried to hit the perfect shot.
"“Yeah, when you hit shots like that, that’s how you make double bogeys around here,” he added. “Luckily, I hit a nice chip shot after that and made an easy 4, at least.”"
He knows it could have been much worse because the scoring average at Muirfield Village on Sunday was 75. He posted a 70.
What Viktor Hovland has found is that developing better course management skills, choosing a better shot, and paying attention to right club selection for the situation, has improved his results. Certainly, it did at The Memorial.
"“I’ve, historically, kind of done better at easier golf courses because of my aggressive nature of how I play the game, and I like to hit right at the pin,” he explained. “If I’m missing more greens, and I didn’t have the short game before, it just puts more pressure on my ball striking, and, to a certain point, there’s only so many greens that you can hit.”"
His performance in majors is certainly improving. In the last year, he was 4th at the 2022 British Open, 2nd at the most recent PGA, and 7th at the Masters. With the U.S. Open coming up, perhaps Hovland’s improved short game and his change in course strategy will benefit him there.
“I think just being in contention as many times as I’ve been the last few months or the last year, I think that’s just a great sign in itself,” he concluded.
In addition to Hovland’s four PGA Tour titles and his two Hero World Challenge victories, he has won twice on the DP World Tour for eight worldwide victories in all. Taking the title at The Memorial moved him from No. 7 to No. 4 in the world.
Line of the week:
At the winner’s press conference, sitting with Jack Nicklaus, Hovland was asked how big the Nicklaus name was in Norway, a country known for its winter sports like cross-country skiing, ski-jumping, and Olympic biathletes like Johannes Thingnes Boe.
“Not to break your ego, but I don’t think there’s too many people that know about you,” Hovland answered.
Everyone laughed, including Nicklaus.