Norwegian golfer Viktor Hovland has come a long way since narrowly missing out on a podium finish at the YOG Nanjing 2014, where he led heading into the final round before losing in a bronze-medal playoff to Thailand’s Danthai Boonma.
Here, he reveals what he learnt from his YOG experiences and what his goals are now that he is a rising star on the PGA Tour…
How do you reflect on your experiences at the YOG Nanjing 2014?
“That was a pretty cool trip. Obviously, it was a little bit different to a normal golf tournament. We ended up staying there for close to three weeks, plus just the fact that you get to travel with the Norwegian squad, get to know other people in different sports in the Village, and just see all the infrastructure that is required to host such an event. I remember after the tournament was over, we went and watched some swimming, and then we watched one of the girls on our team [Grace Bullen] wrestle. She ended up with an Olympic medal, which was really cool to watch. That was one of the coolest things.”
How much do you recall of the YOG tournament itself?
“I remember I played well the first two rounds, and shot 68 each day, I think. And in the last round I just didn't putt very well. So I ended up in a playoff for the bronze medal, but just didn't quite perform when I needed to. I definitely played well enough, but I just didn't score well enough.”
How disappointed were you to miss out on a medal?
“It was a little devastating because that was the only chance I was going to get to play that event. But I knew it wasn't going to be the last golf tournament I ever played. And I knew that I could try to identify what areas of my game led to the reason why I fell a little short, which was mainly putting. But any time you have the opportunity to be in a situation where you have to perform and you need to pull off certain shots to stay in contention, or to win a tournament, or whatever it is, that's a great learning experience no matter the result.”
How significant was the YOG tournament to you?
“Well, it's kind of hard to say. I can't remember exactly how many players there were in the field… but you had Renato Paratore, Marcus Kinhult, and a lot of really talented junior golfers. So I do look back to that tournament as something pretty significant. And I look back at it as something that was really cool to be a part of. But more the history aspect, just to play in the Youth Olympic Games. So it was pretty special. And I hope that next year I can be a part of the Olympic Games too.”
How important is it for you to play at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020?
“Honestly, I have it in the back of my mind, but in professional golf you're playing tournaments every week, and I try not to get ahead of myself. It's easy to just look up in the skies and think about all these things – which is important because you do want goals and you do want things to strive for – but it's easy to catch yourself doing that a little too much, and then you realise that you actually have to go out there and put in the work. So I try to stay a little bit more in the present and just figure out how to get better, and all those things will come together in the end if I do the right things.”
Do you think golfers are more excited about playing in the Olympic Games now?
“I would maybe say so, just because this is going to be the second time golf is in the Olympic Games since a long time ago. It's hard for me to speak on behalf of everyone, but I think just seeing how much pride Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar took from winning their medals in Rio, how much it meant to them and how much it has helped them, that made a lot of other players sit up and go, ‘Wow, okay.’ It maybe opened their eyes to the fact that winning a medal at the Olympic Games is pretty high-level stuff.”
You mentioned Renato and Marcus, who won gold and silver in Nanjing. They both turned professional not long after the YOG, whereas you decided to play college golf in the USA. What was it like seeing them play on the European Tour while you were still in college?
“I do remember that, because I knew they were not going to go to college, and they obviously had success right out of the gate by earning their tour cards. And then Renato won the Scandinavian Masters maybe two years later. I remember while I was still in college just thinking it wasn't long ago that I played with those guys in junior golf, and now they're on the European Tour winning professional events. But I just wasn't ready at the time [to turn professional], and I knew that I had to go to college to develop my skills. And I wouldn't do anything differently looking back at it now.”
It’s worked out well for you, having now established yourself as a winner on the PGA Tour. How does it feel to have made it to this level?
“I'm still very motivated. Obviously, I've been working all my life just to get to the PGA Tour, and now I’m here it's surreal. I have to look back and enjoy that, sit back and relax a little bit. But it doesn’t end here; there are a bunch of other goals that I can set, and [I can] just continue to get better every day. And then we'll see how we do in a few years or 20 years, whatever it is.”
Do you have any specific goals that you've set yourself for the next year?
“Not really. I really don't like to set very specific goals. I just think, ‘Man, that'd be something really cool to do,’ like make it to East Lake [for the Tour Championship]; that'd be awesome. But I don't try to set goals for myself. I just think, ‘Okay, how do I get better?’ And I just try to become a better golfer, and then those things are going to take care of themselves.”
Presumably making the European Ryder Cup team is one of those cool things that you’d like to do…
“I really just enjoy playing on a team. And you don't really get to do that a whole lot in professional golf. So that would almost be one of the coolest things for me to be able to accomplish in golf; be a part of the winning Ryder Cup team. But then again, I'm by no means a given on that team. And I have to really work hard and get better to hopefully make that team.”