Viktor Hovland is the player who changed my opinion the most this year. Viktor has been a strong player on tour since turning professional in 2019, but his game ascended to a different level in 2023. His final round 61 en route to winning this weekend’s BMW Championship could easily be argued as the round of the year, and his back nine 28 is probably the best back nine performance since Cameron Smith’s closing nine at the 2022 Open Championship.
But it’s more than just one hot round in a big event. A few notes on how consistent Viktor Hovland has been this season:
- He and Xander Schauffele are the only two players who finished in the top 20 in all four major championships this year
- Of the 19 tournaments he has played in 2023, Hovland has gained strokes off the tee in 18 of them, and gained strokes on approach in 16
- He has not missed a cut since the 2022 Genesis Scottish Open
Viktor is both a ball-striking machine and a solid putter. Short game woes plagued the beginning of his career, but he has made legitimate improvement around the green in 2023. In the most predictable area of the game, ball-striking, Hovland is among the elite of the elite. On and around the greens, he is above average. With wins at the Memorial and the BMW, Viktor has proven his ability to beat the strongest fields in golf. Looking ahead to next season, it’s reasonable to classify him a step below Scheffler, Rory, and Rahm, but Hovland is not far behind.
I admire many facets of Hovland’s game, but I appreciate his mental approach and course management as much as any physical skill. Viktor has been willing to make adjustments throughout his career, and so far he’s made the right ones. Understanding the benefits of distance, Hovland trained for more speed, and he’s been rewarded for the work. He used to be an accurate driver with slightly above average distance numbers. Now he’s an accurate driver with big distance numbers.
The ability to hit the ball straight with speed helps you score, but you won’t fully benefit if you’re constantly throwing away shots due to bad strategy. Hovland’s strategic approach is extremely intelligent, a clear factor in his success. He understands that each shot is independent of the previous shot and resets his mind accordingly. He is aggressive off the tee, conservative with long approach shots, and eliminates hazards.
During his victory interview on Sunday, Amanda Renner asked Hovland if his course management helped him hit another gear in his game. Here’s the response in full:
“I wouldn’t say making seven birdies on the back nine is trying to play more conservative going into the greens. It just kind of worked out that way. I think it was more of a mindset thing. Instead of ‘Oh my God I have a chance to win, I need to birdie this hole, I need to birdie this hole, and I need to birdie this hole to have a chance’, it was more ‘What’s the right decision right here and now?’ and then commit to it. Obviously I hit some great shots, I got a couple of nice bounces, and the putts went in. But it wasn’t like I mapped the whole thing out. I was just trying to make the best decision on every single shot.”
These comments reveal a mindset well-suited for championship golf. And his impressive results are a reflection of the hard work and immense talent he brings to the course whenever he tees it up. His future is bright.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.