A few days before heading into the Memorial Tournament this week, Viktor Hovland visited the old Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed.
“I just saw the outside,” he said.
Seeing inside wasn’t supposed to be, but that’s okay, because the 25-year-old Norwegian already knows how to break out of golf prison. Like Andy Dufresne, Hovland kept pounding until he finally broke through.
Hovland finally found freedom Sunday at the Memorial Tournament, winning his first PGA Tour event in the United States in a one-hole playoff against Denny McCarthy. He’d come close to winning a few times this season — not including winning the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December — but came away empty-handed (Note: I’d gladly accept Hovland’s $6 million empty-handed in ‘loser’ money ).
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You’ve heard the golf phrase “Best player who never won a major tournament?” Hovland doesn’t fit that description yet, but he’s the best player not to win a major this year, tied for seventh at the Masters in April and second at the PGA Championship two weeks ago. Adding to those close calls, he finished third at The Players in March and was on the hunt last week to enter the Colonial’s final round before finishing with a disappointing 73.
With nine holes to play on Sunday, it looked like his tight but cigar-free season would continue. He trailed McCarthy by four strokes and felt his chances of winning were getting slimmer.
“I’ve been to this place before where it seems to be for this tournament,” he said. “But I was really proud of myself for fighting back.”
Hovland stayed within striking distance with a birdie at 15, then birdied the only birdie of the day at 17 to close in on a shot from McCarthy, who was playing a group behind. After netting a nervous 5-foot par putt at 18, Hovland waited for McCarthy to come home with his only bogey of the day at 18.
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In the playoffs, Hovland hit the green in half while McCarthy missed his approach shot, then missed his par putt after reaching 12 feet. Hovland threw two putts from 58 feet, earning his fourth victory on the tour by draining a 7-footer.
Sometimes winning a touring event brings more relief than joy, especially after experiencing so many close calls that deplete the emotional reservoir.
“Obviously learning from mistakes is key,” Hovland said. “But sometimes there’s enough scar tissue in there, it’s not great either. I don’t know how to watch it, but the longer you’re in this place the more you learn, instead of getting down when you’re not playing the way you want, I think that’s a better way to handle it. »
In other words, stay positive even though the situation may seem hopeless. Another Shawshank reference. So sue me. It’s an all-time great movie, with a mention of golf too. The man Andy is accused of murdering at the start of the film was a golf pro. Dangerous profession, especially in country clubs.
But I digress. Hovland is a lovely guy, able to goad tournament host Jack Nicklaus the way the Golden Bear likes to tease those he loves.
Asked about the importance of the Nicklaus name in Norway, Hovland turned to the 18-win Major champion, “Not to break your ego, but I don’t think there are too many people who know you.”
Hovland, who moved from frozen Norway to the scorching plains of Oklahoma where he played college golf for Oklahoma State, explained that golf isn’t a big hit in his native country.
“Our golf season is short,” he said. “We get a lot of snow. We are a proud ski nation. Most people in the summer play football. But in recent years it has really intensified and more and more people are discovering the great game of golf.
Thanks to their compatriot’s victory on Sunday, expect the Norwegians to follow golf more closely than ever. Not that Hovland fusses over being a Pied Piper. After hoisting the Memorial Trophy on Sunday, he planned to carry the golf bag of a friend who would play the US Open qualifier at The Lakes and Brookside country clubs on Monday.
Commemorative champion one day, humble caddy the next. Well done, indeed.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Viktor Hovland visited the Shawshank site, then walked out and won the Memorial