CROMWELL, June 19 – When Viktor Hovland was a young boy in Olso, Norway, he was part of the golfing community. It was a small, tight-knit community.
In 2015, he won the Norwegian International Trophy and earned a spot on the Norweigan national team. He played in Europe and did well. He came to the United States and played golf at Oklahoma State and realized he had to up his game.
After an outstanding career at Oklahoma State, Hovland and three other young golfers, including Oklahoma State teammate Matthew Wolfe, are making their professional debut here this weekend at the Travelers Championship. First round play begins Thursday morning at 6:45 p.m. at the TPC-River Highlands.
Hovland, 21, shouldn’t be out of his element. He has been playing well the past few weeks. Last week, he broke Jack Nicklaus’ 59-year old U.S. Open record for low amateur score with a four-under 280 at Pebble Beach in California. Nicklaus had a 2-under 282 at Cherry Hills, New Jersey in 1960. Hovland finished 12th.
Earlier this spring, he was the low amateur at The Masters’ at Augusta National with a 285. He has played well in these two major tournaments but didn’t earn any cash. That will change this week.
“It’s given me TV, time I guess,” Hovland said, chuckling. “It’s been nice. Other than that, it’s given me a lot of the confidence that I can play out here, and to compete in majors is really, really fun. It’s the highest stage, and to perform at that level was really cool.”
He finished his collegiate career with a flourish. He was second in the Big 12 championships and won the Ben Hogan award for being the top collegiate golfer in the country. He finishes his amateur career as the No. 1 ranked amateur golfer in the world.
Hovland excelled as a youngster in Norway but began to see better and better competition as his career has begun to flourish. He won the U.S. Amateur title last year at Pebble Beach.
“We had kind of a national junior league,” Hovland said of his younger years in Norway. “It would be the same kids that played every time. Probably be handful of players that were pretty decent. The golf community is so small over there and you do well and you think you’re big time because everyone is talking about you.
“Then you play in Europe, start playing European tournaments, and, again, there is a bunch of good players, but you do well there and then you think you’re really good,” he said.
“Then you come down to college. Then I figured out, wow, there is a bunch of good guys out here, bunch of good players. I had a pretty solid amateur or junior career in Europe, and then I came to Oklahoma State and I figured out very quickly that I had to play really well just to make the lineup on the team,” he said. “You know, you start realizing there are a lot of good players out there.”
Mickelson is nostalgic returning to TPC
It’s been 16 years since Phil Michelson has played in Cromwell at the TPC-River Highlands. He won the tournament twice in 2001 and 2002.
“It’s weird how this is one of my favorite courses, along with Harbor Town (in Hiltonhead, South Carolina), and yet I haven’t played them very much because they follow the weeks of majors,” Mickelson said. .
“It’s hard for me to think that it’s been 16 years since I’ve been here. It’s been a fun career. A lot of fun things have happened,” he said. “Playing well and doing well in this site is a big part of that. I’m very appreciative of that, and it’s fun for me to get back while I still feel like I’m able to compete.”
Mickelson appreciates the passion of the fans here in Cromwell and the size of the galleries.
“It’s always been one of the largest supported tournaments that we have,” he said. “What’s really cool is the back nine offers great risk/reward, exciting finishes, lots of birdies and potential eagles, as well as bogeys and doubles. This is one of the more exciting back nines to finish a golf tournament.
Brooks Koepka is ranked No. 1 in the world and finished second at last week’s U.S. Open. But there was no doubt that he would be here. Koepka committed to the event last January.
“I like the golf course. I like the golf course,” he said. “This tournament has always been a fun one to play. The fans are great. The golf course, like I said. It’s so much — it’s enjoyable to play. We like shooting a bunch under par. It’s fun for us.
“I know that’s why you see some of the best players in the world come back year after year. It’s one that I’d like to keep on my schedule for a long time. If you notice, most Tour players play the same events year after year. They find golf courses they like, find courses they don’t like, and they stay away from those and come back to the ones they like.”