The 25-year-old from Norway striped one shot after another with a hastily assembled replacement for a broken club and cruised to his third Tour title.
No doubt you have heard the expression before: “You can’t teach that.”
Certainly, it’s a good way to describe what Viktor Hovland did on Sunday, winning the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba Resort for the second year in succession. If you were looking for a phrase to capture what Hovland accomplished with a four-shot win and 23-under par performance, you might just say, “You can’t teach that.”
And that would be appropriate, except in this case, at least on one level, you can borrow it.
To explain: the day before the tournament began, Hovland handed his driver to PGA Tour compadre Danny Lee, inviting Lee to give it a swipe during a practice session. Attempting to replicate his top swing speed, Lee let it rip and Hovland’s driver broke apart.
“It was just in pieces,” Hovland said.
Suddenly, the 24-year old Norwegian was up a creek without a driver. He was about to tackle the El Camaleon Golf Course in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico without his custom-fit Ping driver. Hovland had a backup head, but not an emergency shaft to put in it.
“I felt so sorry for him,” Lee said. “If I had a spare driver, I would have given it to him, but I didn’t.”
Lee didn’t, but James Hahn did, a Ping G-425 with nearly the same specs but a slightly shorter shaft. Hahn, another PGA Tour competitor, gave Hovland the backup stick with which to practice and with it, Hovland striped one shot after another.
Enter Ping rep Kenton Oates, who produced a replica model for Hovland to use in competition on Thursday. And the rest is, well, mostly fairways and birdie-filled rounds. Hovland used the substitute furniture with the shorter shaft throughout the championship, repeating his 2020 victory at Mayakoba and getting his third PGA Tour championship win.
“Obviously when something like that happens, you just kind of go, ‘Oh, man, come on, like really, is that gonna happen?’ ” Hovland said. “But then I was able to get over that pretty quickly as soon as I, you know, played a driver that was really good. I didn’t feel like I was giving up anything to the rest of the field and I was just kind of able to plot my way around.”
Hovland thus became the first PGA Tour member to win a tournament title back-to-back since Brooks Koepka won the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships. That may give rise to a new expression in championship golf: “nothing borrowed, nothing gained.”
Hovland didn’t miss the short grass with the driver during a first-round 67 or a career-low round of 62 on Saturday. Moreover, he remained tee-to-green steady over all four days.
Although he was some 10 yards shorter with the faux driver, a lower ball flight and straighter trajectory allowed Hovland to keep the ball out of the wind and in the narrow fairways at El Camaleon. But Hovland explained that he is not necessarily going to make the driver switch more permanent.
“I think (the different driver) is very course-dependent,” he said. “I’m definitely hitting it a little bit lower and a little shorter, so it’s great for really fast places where you don’t have to cover things.
“But I’d say most of the courses we play on the PGA Tour, there’s usually a bunker at 300 (yards) or 310, where you really have to send one up in the air and try to cover the bunker. That’s where that driver’s not going to be as ideal as the one that I had before.
And for perspective, he added: “I’ve had my best year off the tee strokes gained with the one that I had before it broke, so I don’t really see a point in changing that driver. But I could see myself using maybe this setup at certain courses, for sure.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt the card when you’re doing other things well. Hovland hit 88.9 percent of the greens on Friday and averaged just over 1.5 putts through the last three rounds. Add it all up and 67-65-62-67 takes you to 23-under par and puts you in control for a dominating win.
Hovland took the lead during the second round, started the final round with a two-stroke edge, and never got seriously pressed. He led by as many as five strokes on Sunday’s back nine. Mexican native Carlos Ortiz (66) finished second, four shots back, while Justin Thomas (69) was another stroke back in third.