‘[Viktor Hovland] Is Cursed Right Now’: Has the Norwegian’s Short-Game Nightmare Returned to Haunt Him?

Published 02/07/2024, 3:45 AM EST

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via Reuters

Apparently, Viktor Hovland is feeling “cursed.” Aloha Swing didn’t offer him any hope. Hovland almost went unnoticed in the first signature event of the calendar year. Back at Pebble Beach, after a three-week break, the Norwegian once again fell short of his title bid. By a way bigger margin. The reigning FedEx Cup Champion was placed at 58th on the leaderboard when the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was cut short to 54 holes due to inclement weather.

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Following this, the 26-year-old withdrew from the WM Phoenix Open next week in Arizona. He has brushed aside all LIV Golf rumors in the past. Reportedly, Hovland is frustrated with his game and wants to train at home. Looking at his performance, it is pretty clearly evident that the short game has been bothering the Oslo native again.

Is Viktor Hovland back to square zero?

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At the Sentry, the Norwegian settled at tied 22nd place with 21 under 272. Hovland was ranked eighth in the 59-man field. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. Ball striking has been his strongest forte, and it has remained so. But that once again reveals the sharp contrast that marked his first few years on the Tour. 

In SG: Approach to the Green, Hovland was 44 at -2.164. Similarly, in SG: Around the Green, the six-time PGA Tour winner was 42nd (-0.813). His short game was drawing him back once again. Hovland took a break, sitting out the next few events. But at the second signature event of the calendar year, things started getting worse.

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At Pebble Beach, which had a field of 80, Viktor Hovland ranked 74th in SG: Approach to the Green. The Scandinavian Pro gave up almost three shots per round. On SG: Around the Green (-2.298), Hovland was even further away. He fared better than only two players on the field. The same goes for scrambling (35.71%) as well.

If not for his stellar ball striking, the 26-year-old would have been further behind on the leaderboard. His short game is reminiscent of 2019-20, when Hovland ranked 148th in scrambling and 157th in scrambling from the rough. It looks like the progress he made last year working with Joe Mayo has been erased in one fell swoop.

Hovland now ranks 158th in proximity, 142nd in scrambling, and 158th in scrambling from the rough. On approach to the greens, the six-time PGA Tour winner is 166th. Compare that with his last year’s statistics. Hovland was the 11th best in the field for SG: Approach to the Greens. His Greens in Regulation percentage was 68.18%. On proximity, the Oslo native ranked 10th, 48th on scrambling, and 36th on scrambling from the rough. Much of that progress was the result of his grind with Joe Mayo, with whom he split up this year.

The crucial change arrived courtesy of a legendary coach

Four years ago, Viktor Hovland almost slipped on his lead at the 2020 Puerto Rican Open. A wayward chip from a difficult lie on hole 11 resulted in a triple bogey. Although Hovland would go on to recover and bounce back to win his first silverware on the tour, he had to face questions about his short game.

Hovland quipped, “I suck at chipping,” before admitting that he needed to work on it. Because, in one-off cases, he could get away with it. But in the long run, Hovland understood it’d bite him back. After working much on the short game for a better part of 2021 and 2022, the Norwegian finally roped in famed coach Joe Mayo.

Partnering with Mayo drastically improved his game. When Mayo started working with Hovland, his SG put him in 155th place on the PGA Tour. Five months later, at the FedEx. St. Jude Championship, Viktor Hovland was gaining .176 strokes per round, jumping to the 55th spot. When he became the FedEx Cup champion in August, Hovland was fifth in SG: Approach to the Green, gaining almost 4.7 strokes, 11th in SG: Around the Green, and the leader in scrambling (85.71%). Interestingly, the veteran coach refused to take any credit, calling Hovland “a wonderful athlete” who was smart enough to understand the science behind every shot.

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But Hovland surprisingly severed ties with Mayo in the run-up to this season. Indeed, Hovland’s superior ball striking obviates the need to be in the top ten in any of the metrics mentioned above. So, did he feel he had improved enough? Neither of them provided any updates on their split. It was Todd Lewis of the Golf Channel who broke the news. Nevertheless, there is no denying that Hovland needs to be at least above the field average to fulfill his major hopes this year.

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Hovland’s problem was that his short game lacked diversity. But the tricky thing is, as he himself admitted, no two times you’re going to end up in the exact same spot around the greens. So, you need a vast repertoire of shots in your arsenal to tackle difficult holes. While it’s too early to predict how this season will pan out for the reigning FedEx Cup champion, it has certainly not started as anyone expected—Viktor Hovland included.

Watch This Story | “Won the Chip”: Viktor Hovland’s To-Go Dinner, Post His Mindblowing Triumph, Draws the Attention of a $51,780,000,000 Fast Food Giant

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Written by:

Parnab Bhattacharya

577Articles

One take at a time

I, Parnab Bhattacharya, am a budding golf writer at EssentiallySports. I am keen on constantly exploring my deep-rooted love for golf through my long-time passion for writing. With a strong knack for storytelling and experience in SEO content writing, I bring a unique blend of fluent writing and technical expertise.
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Edited by:

Sheldon Pereira

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