Don’t put Viktor Hovland in a box.
On Sunday, the 25-year-old defended his title at the Hero World Challenge. The victory — which came over a limited but well-stocked field — boosted Hovland back into the top 10 in the world. It also reestablished him as golf’s Resort King.
Hovland’s five PGA Tour victories have all come outside the confines of the continental United States. They’ve also all come in tropical escapes: Puerto Rico, Playa del Carmen, Mex., Playa again, the Bahamas, and now the Bahamas again. People who write and talk about golf tend to lean into the oversimplifications that golfers will be best suited to conditions they grew up in; Shane Lowry will forever be associated with Irish links, for example. But for Hovland, who grew up in Norway and lives in land-locked Oklahoma, a warm sea breeze seems to fit him quite well, thanks. The kid does well on vacation. And he defies simple characterization.
But let’s amend that first bit: don’t put Hovland in a box — unless that box is a four-wheeled vehicle.
In the Bahamas this week I was eager to ask Hovland about one thing in particular: his epic midsummer road trip. Following the Open Championship, he and a few buddies packed up their stuff and made the epic drive from Oslo, Norway to play Lofoten Links, one of the northernmost golf courses in the world.
Lofoten is in a remote area of northern Norway, 95 miles above the Arctic Circle. In the winter, the sun barely rises. In the summer, it never sets. That means opportunities for round-the-clock golf, teeing off at noon or midnight or anywhere in between.
The trip struck me in particular because driving thousands of miles with a few buddies to check off a bucket-list curiosity is very on brand for your average 25-year-old, but it’s not the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from our top-tier professional athletes. Their time is closely guarded. Valuable. Efficient. But Hovland didn’t see it that way.
When I flagged him down mid-week, he had a simple explanation. “I just love to drive,” he said.
He detailed the trip: “We had a small-ish car, four guys, four sets of golf clubs, and we drove literally 22 hours straight,” he said.
The first day they played it was blowing 35 miles per hour. Hovland, who was playing with his buddy’s clubs — his gamers still lost in transit after the Open Championship — estimated he shot 83 that first day. The next day? He set the course record. He eagled the drivable par-4 first and then added birdies at Nos. 2, 8, 11, 13, 15 and 17 for an eight-under 63.
It’s fitting that the greatest golfer in Norway’s history should have the low round at its most dramatic golf course. Still, he downplayed the accomplishment in favor of the experience.
“Oh, the course record itself doesn’t mean that much,” he said. “It was more the drive up with my buddies. I mean, those are the moments that you look back on the most.
“Because this [he gestured to the golf course, which represented the PGA Tour] is fun, especially when you play well. But you kind of do the same thing week in, week out. When I went home and we drove all the way up there, that’s not something you do every single week. That was one of the coolest moments of the whole year.”
If you were wondering whether Hovland had a designated chauffeur buddy who drove while the celebrity among them rode in style, think again.
“I drove probably 90 percent of the way up,” he said. “And then we switched at the end. And on the way down I drove the first half and then slept the rest because one of my other friends had to get back, he had to make a family dinner. It was a grind, but it was fun.”
Hovland is a road-trip veteran by now; early in golf’s post-pandemic return, he drove … everywhere. From Fort Worth to Hilton Head. From Hilton Head to Hartford. From Hartford to Detroit. From Detroit to Columbus. He listened to heavy metal the entire way.
But those journeys were largely solo. How’d this dynamic play out? Podcasts? Conversation?
“Listening to a lot of music and talking shit,” he said with a grin. “A good mix.”
Hovland is also the Tour’s biggest fan of heavy metal. (Again, this is a man unbounded by your expectations for a golfer.) His friends, he said, are not. That explained why he was so eager to get behind the wheel.
“When I was driving, I got to pick the music,” he said.
Hovland’s year began and ended with victories. He won the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in just his third start of the year. He won this week’s Hero World Challenge for the second season in a row. He stacked up a bunch of other strong results in between, including a T4 at the Genesis, a T2 at the Arnold Palmer and a career-best major result of T4 at the Open.
He expected more from this year, he said, but putting a bow on 2022 in the Bahamas was a nice way to finish.
“Definitely feels a little bit better ending up with a win. I think it was a step in the right direction even though I feel like I should have won more tournaments this year.”
But it’s clear he sandwiched in a win in the middle of the year, too, over the course of a couple thousand miles on Norway’s E6. His only regret, in the end, was that the drive was too short.
“I’d never been that far north, and I thought it was all going to be like, extremely pretty,” he said. “It was still cool, but what we did was take the fastest route and that’s closer to Sweden, so it’s mostly trees and highways. If you go on a road closer to the coast, it’s super scenic — but then you’re adding four or five hours.
“So we might do that next time.”