Whether it be “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson or “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, compiling a playlist for a road trip is a key part of the experience.
Norwegian golfer Viktor Hovland, who has been driving between tournaments all across the US for the last few months to avoid flying during the coronavirus pandemic, has had to do the same, though his taste in road trip music was more a case of pedal to the metal.
“I listen to metal, but I listen to kind of a particular subgenre that’s called metal core,” Hovland told Shane O’Donoghue, host of CNN’s Living Golf show. “And it’s usually some kind of heavier stuff, a lot of screaming, but a lot of melodic parts and a lot of cool musicianship if you will.
“When I’m driving through the night, I’m getting pretty tired but it’s almost like I’m in a trance and I just keep my playlist going and I just get my head deep in the music and suddenly three hours fly by.”
Hitting the open road
Like fellow PGA Tour players Rickie Fowler and Alex Noren, Hovland is one of the many professional golfers who attended Oklahoma State University and the Norwegian still lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Following golf’s restart on June 11 after it’s enforced break because of Covid-19, the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas was the first opportunity Hovland had to get back playing competitively.
And, because of the competition’s proximity to Oklahoma, the 22-year-old concluded that driving there meant he didn’t “have to get exposed to the virus.” And from there, one road led to another.
“I was thinking I’m playing the week after that, so then I’ve got to drive back up to Oklahoma again and then catch a plane to South Carolina,” explained Hovland, whose trip has made him a bit of cult figure on the golf circuit.
“And then I was just thinking: ‘What if … I just drive to all the events?’ And I was like: ‘Oh, that could be a lot.’ But I decided not to think about it and just go and do it and enjoy the hours of podcasts and music.”
From Fort Worth, Hovland embarked on a 16-hour drive to Hilton Head, South Carolina to play in the RBC Heritage. He then stayed at the home of his caddie Shay Knight in Charleston, before the two of them traveled to Hartford, Connecticut — a 13-hour jaunt — for the Travelers Championship
A 12-hour drive to Detroit, Michigan for the Rocket Mortgage followed, before a three-hour trip to Columbus, Ohio for the Memorial Tournament. After staying there for two weeks, it took Hovland 13 hours to drive back to Stillwater.
The Norwegian’s road trip — which was roughly over 4,000 miles in length — has been a way of making the journeys a “little bit more memorable” for Hovland, although he admits he’s now going to “give myself a little break.”
“You’re so used to just packing the bags, going to the airport, going to the next stop and then just play golf. So I kind of enjoy those moments, you’re in the middle of Mississippi or Louisiana or Pennsylvania and you’re just kind of going: ‘What on earth am I doing right now?’
“So it just kind of makes it a little bit more memorable, get some life experiences and just mix it up a little bit.”
‘It’s pretty surreal’
Born and raised in Oslo, Norway, Hovland picked up golf at the aged of four after his father Harald returned from the US — where he had been working as an engineer — with some clubs for his son to practice with.
But, for the current world No. 31, watching clips of Tiger Woods on YouTube, particularly “that chip in during the 2005 Masters on 16,” was what really “propelled” Hovland’s passion for the game.
Since relocating to the US, Hovland has gone from strength to strength, consistently breaking records along the way.
As an amateur, he won the 2018 US Amateur at Pebble Beach — the first Norwegian to do so — which earned him a spot at the Masters, US Open, and the Open Championship in 2019.
At that US Open, Hovland finished tied for 12th and, with a 4-under total of 280 over 72 holes, broke Jack Nicklaus’ US Open scoring total record of 282 for an amateur he set in 1960.
Since turning professional in 2019, Hovland became the first player from Norway to win on the PGA Tour with his victory at the Puerto Rico Open in February, 2020.
His success has meant that Hovland is being placed in playing groups with some of the biggest names in golf. At the current World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational he was part of the same group as 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.
Lining up alongside these greats of the game still feels “pretty surreal,” according to Hovland.
“Growing up, I would wake up early in the morning and watch the European Tour, even the Asian Tour and then at night, I would watch the PGA Tour,” added Hovland.
“I was watching so much golf and watching all these names and then suddenly I’m hitting balls right next to them on the range and even beating them in some cases.
“So that is pretty crazy, especially up in Norway, because some spots in the United States, if you’re a member at a really good course, it’s not uncommon for a random PGA Tour player to just show up and practice.
“That never happens in Norway. So in a way you’re so detached from that as a reality. So to then to kind of be there a couple of years later being in that other reality, it’s pretty crazy.”
The road ahead
Hovland will soon be heading to San Francisco — by plane rather than car due to the estimated 31-hour drive from Oklahoma to California — to take part in the PGA Championship for the first time, which will be held August 6-9.
Although competing at the majors is a massive step up from normal PGA Tour events — “they’re more difficult tests, the courses are harder, greens are firmer and faster and the players are better” explains Hovland — the Norwegian insists he isn’t just going to make up the numbers.
“I’d say if I’m playing good with my game right now, I believe I can have a chance to win,” he said.
But ahead of the rescheduled majors and the continuation of the PGA Tour, Hovland isn’t putting unnecessary pressure on himself by setting unrealistic goals, explaining that the opportunity to improve his game is his main motivation.
“To be honest with you, I don’t really like to set a whole lot of goals. There’s a lot of things I would like to do; win a major, play the Ryder Cup and do all these great things,” he said.
“But I take a lot more pleasure in kind of seeing my game just improve. So if I’m standing on the range and let’s say I’m working on club head speed and I am 113-114 miles an hour consistently, and I just can’t get past that point and then I’m going in the gym and I’m getting stronger, working on some technical stuff.
“And then let’s say maybe three months from now that one 113-114 is 117. And I’m just kind of getting better, that gives me that kind of sense of accomplishment and that’s kind of how I get more motivated to keep on playing and playing.
“And I take more pleasure from becoming a better golfer and then I try to do that in a tournaments, but essentially the most fun I have is just getting better at golf.”
Be it taking long driving trips or driving the ball straight and true on a golf course, Hovland’s early career success suggests he could be having a lot more fun on his sporting journey.