The last man to win a U.S. title at Pebble Beach?
Not Tiger Woods. That was 2000. Not Graeme McDowell. That was 2010.
It would be Viktor Hovland of Norway. He won the U.S. Amateur championship last August and has seen so many doors open for him because of that win, he can’t really process it all.
“I don’t know if I truly know yet,” he said, when asked about the magnitude of last year’s victory, “because I don’t know where the story is leading to.”
It has already led to an invitation to the Masters, where he finished as the low amateur, and got the invitation to Butler Cabin to receive the silver cup that goes along with the honor.
On Thursday, Hovland will play the opening round of the U.S. Open alongside two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and British Open titlist Francisco Molinari.
Then, next week, he’s turning pro, and he’ll make his debut in the Travelers Championship near Hartford.
“Haven’t gotten there,” he said. “I’m thinking about the U.S. Open right now.”
His walk around Pebble Beach on Monday was filled with nothing but good memories.
He played six matches and trailed for a grand total of one hole. His 6-and-5 victory over Devon Bling in the final made him the first U.S. amateur champion from Norway, whose best-known player, to this point, is two-time women’s major champion Suzann Pettersen.
Hovland is turning pro next week along with his teammate at Oklahoma State, Matthew Wolf. Hardcore golf fans may recognize the duo, who were central characters in the documentary TV series “Driven,” which was executive produced by Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas.
No surprise, then, that Fowler played a practice round with Hovland, the 21-year-old native of Oslo, and sees a bright future.
“It is an adjustment turning pro,” Fowler said. “Sometimes it takes longer for some guys than others. I’m excited for him to start his professional career soon. I think he’s going to have a lot of success. I hope that would be sooner rather than later.”
While the U.S. Open has a tradition of including amateurs at its event — 15 made it this season, including six who earned exempt spots — the days of Bobby Jones capturing this title on a semi-regular basis as an amateur are long gone. Not since John Goodman in 1933 has an amateur won America’s championship.
Which isn’t really the point of this week for Hovland.
Beginning next week, he’ll play four straight tournaments on the PGA Tour to kick off what he hopes will be his permanent full-time job.
Could Pebble Beach be a springboard for him, once again? He’ll know more in a week.
“I’m just trying to work things in my game that I think that I need to improve, and as long as I keep doing that and seeing improvements, that’s all I need to do to,” he said. “If that leads to being in contention or 40th place or missing the cut, it is what it is. It’s a process. Just trying to get better.”
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