Viktor Hovland, a 21-year-old from Norway, who was an absolute star at Oklahoma State University, impressively tied for 12th in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June with his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag.
In the process, Hovland – winner of the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach – broke Jack Nicklaus’ record for the lowest 72-hole score by an amateur in U.S. Open history with his 280 total to better Nicklaus’ mark, set in 1960 at Cherry Hills, by two strokes.
— FOX Sports: Golf (@GolfonFOX) June 16, 2019
Days later, Hovland – as was planned – turned professional and made his play-for-money debut in Cromwell, Conn., at the Travelers Championship.
It’s also there where Hovland linked up with veteran caddie, Shay Knight.
Knight, an Australian who has been looping on the PGA Tour for 13 years now, introduced himself to Hovland last November in Mexico at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. The two briefly spoke about Hovland’s upcoming jaunt to The Lakes in Sydney for the Australian Open, which was just up the road from where Knight is from.
Hovland would play well in Australia, tying for 13th in the tournament.
Over the next several months, Knight paid closer attention to Hovland. Earlier this year, Knight received a call from fellow caddie Joe Skovron, who works for Rickie Fowler.
“Joe called me,” Knight told The Caddie Network on Monday, as he was mapping out TPC Twin Cities for this week’s inaugural 3M Open. “It was no secret that Viktor would be turning pro at some point this year. Like Viktor, Rickie went to OSU – there’s a strong contingent of OSU guys on the PGA Tour and most are represented by the Wasserman Media Group, including Rickie and Viktor now. Joe asked me if I’d have any interest in caddying for Viktor when the decision to turn pro was official and my answer, obviously, was yes.”
And so it was, right after the U.S. Open, the pair teamed up at the Travelers.
Hovland opened nicely with a 3-under 67 and wound up finishing his pro debut T54.
“That first week was sort of an assessment for both of us,” Knight said. “I think the first week, from a mental side, you know if you’ll click or not, in my opinion. Travelers week was to see if we would get on well with each other. That’s half the battle. You need to get on well and have something to talk about to stay engaged in something other than golf to take the stress out of the tournament itself.”
That first week, Knight said Hovland was mostly on his own in terms of yardages and picking clubs, but, “we discussed clubs a lot more last week in Detroit. We were a lot more engaging, talking about where to hit it, positioning, mindset, etc.”
And there lies the biggest difference between college golf and the pros: mindset. The mindset is something a veteran like Knight can bring to the table immediately to help a young player.
“A perfect example was in Hartford,” Knight said. “He missed in the wrong position on No. 10 on Friday and he tried to get cute and ended up making a 7. After the round, we had a good chat about how he needs to be a lot more patient and a lot more disciplined when he’s out of position. I think a veteran caddie like me, with experience in that regard, can inform him that you don’t have to play perfect golf all the time. You need to be in position and in play.
“If you’re out of position, get back into position. That’s a big thing moving forward for the younger guys. There’s a big difference between coming in 54th and 25th. That’s a huge amount of points and money. In college, you don’t think about it that way. All you’re thinking about is win, win, win. On Tour, you’ve got to present yourself with the best opportunities, whatever those may be from week to week. It’s a game of chess.”
Knight said Hovland admitted to experiencing nerves he’d never experienced before when trying to make a cut while they were in Hartford – understandable for a player now suddenly playing for loads of money.
Hovland wasn’t thrilled with just barely making the cut there and Knight explained that all it takes is a good weekend to soar up the leaderboard and make some serious money.
Sure enough, that’s what happened last week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Hovland opened with rounds of 70-69 and shot another 70 in Round 3. But in Sunday’s final round, he played great, firing an 8-under 64 to climb 39 spots up the leaderboard in one day and tie for 13th.
“To shoot 8 under on Sunday and show his potential takes a lot of pressure off himself,” Knight said. “Bottom line is, he’s trying to get his Tour card, but another realistic goal would be to get in the Web Finals (that Tour is now known as the Korn Ferry Tour). If he gets there, no question he gets through. Small goals. If he goes and wins in one of the next three events he’s got on the PGA Tour, it takes care of itself. It’ll be huge for him moving forward, for sure.”
What impresses Knight most about Hovland so far in their short time together, he said, is the driving and ball striking.
“He has the ability to take one side of the golf course out of play, which is huge,” Knight said. “He drives it very straight. His ball striking is fantastic, and you can see he’s got a ton of potential. I’m also impressed with his mental approach. He’s a very calm guy. He can get angry, but lets it go quickly. It’s really exciting for me. I’m as excited now as when I first came out on Tour to be able to watch a kid grow out here. Obviously, he’s had a lot of accolades as an amateur. To see what he did Sunday was impressive.”