STILLWATER — Twenty-one-year-old Viktor Hovland finished his first Masters on Sunday afternoon, the first Norwegian to play in the world’s most famous golf tournament, and was led to Firestone Cabin. Condoleezza Rice was there, and so Hovland watched Tiger Woods play the back nine with the former U.S. Secretary of State.
From Firestone it was on to Butler Cabin where, as the best-scoring amateur in the field, Hovland would take part in a nationally televised ceremony seated next to the defending Masters champion and the fella about to put on the green jacket as this year’s winner.
That fella was Woods, and he had just authored arguably the greatest comeback story in American sports history.
“They had us sitting in the chairs beforehand to make sure everything was ready,” Hovland said Thursday, “and Tiger just kind of quickly came in and tapped my back and said, ‘Hey, awesome playing. Congrats.’ I didn’t really know what to say. I was sitting down just kind of looking up. Yeah, that was definitely the most nervous I was the whole week.”
Hovland played with Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson at Augusta National. He got tips from Sergio Garcia and Bernhard Langer. He played the traditional Wednesday par-3 tournament with his dad caddying. He played the actual Masters with his Oklahoma State coach, Alan Bratton, caddying.
He won the Silver Cup as the low amateur and stood a 9-iron from Woods as the golf icon slipped on his fifth green jacket.
And then Monday, he flew back to Stillwater, got in his car … and did what exactly? Daydream about Amen Corner? Set up an autograph table at Theta Pond? Drink sweet tea out of his Silver Cup at Eskimo Joe’s?
“I drove out here to Karsten,” Hovland said of OSU’s Karsten Creek Golf Club home course, “and saw the guys. I literally sat in the golf cart watching the other guys practice.
“It was nice to get back to Stillwater just to kind of relax a little bit and go back to normal.”
This helps explain how Hovland played the golf he did, and had the experience he did, at the Masters.
“He’s refreshingly mature for a 21-year-old,” Bratton said. “He has a great perspective on the world.”
Hovland grew up in Norway interested in soccer and taekwondo, but he settled on golf. Here’s a hint why he was drawn to the mentally exhaustive game: Hovland helped master the English language by watching movies.
“Step Brothers?” Maybe “Wet Hot American Summer?”
“I enjoyed watching ‘Lincoln’ because there are so many old-fashioned hard words that no one uses anymore,” Hovland said. “And ‘Amistad,’ I thought that was one cool.”
If you can watch a historical drama about a slave revolt to master the finer points of a language, you can handle thinking your way around Augusta National. Or Pebble Beach, where Hovland destroyed the field to win the U.S. Amateur last August.
“He ended his final match so early they brought him into the (Fox) booth. There was a lot of the broadcast to go,” Bratton said. “I was outside the booth thinking he’d be in there a short period of time, and he was in there for 30 to 40 minutes. He kind of carried the broadcast. There’s not many 21-year-olds that can add that kind of substance.
“He’s a very intelligent kid, humble, caring.”
That kid’s life could have changed at the Masters. But Hovland is still holed up at OSU’s Young Hall when he isn’t at Karsten, and when he’s at Karsten he’s doing what he did Thursday — toting his golf bag around the Cowboys’ locker room.
Yes, finishing in the top 35 at a Masters will open a college player’s mind. It’s a good bet Hovland’s junior season at OSU this spring will be his last.
It doesn’t have to cloud his mind, though.
Here’s what Hovland was thinking Thursday: “We’re playing for some big things as well here. We’re trying to go back-to-back (as defending NCAA champion), which no other Oklahoma State (team) has done before. I’m trying to treat every tournament the same, even though that’s not easy to do. You’re a part of the team, and you’re not a part of the team anymore if you’re a professional. So I really cherish my time here with the guys and trying to win college events.”
Hovland wore his orange golf shirt with OSU’s “Swingin’ Pete” logo to Butler Cabin. Woods wore his traditional red, and Hovland got a kick out of representing the Cowboys next to the color of their Bedlam rival.
Yeah, Masters weekend was just about perfect.
Of course coming down from golf’s clouds can be pretty sweet, too.
Here at Karsten, Hovland was still wearing “Swingin’ Pete” as he smiled through interviews. It wasn’t Jim Nantz asking questions, and that wasn’t No. 12 at Augusta just outside the door, but the youngster seemed totally content.
“I’m proud to be a Cowboy,” he said.