The great entertainer: what makes Viktor Hovland Box-office viewing

Mark McGowan

Viktor Hovland (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Back in March 2021, I wrote the following in a golf-focused mates’ WhatsApp group. “Spieth and Hovland in the final group would be an unreal watch. Hovland is the most entertaining player out there at the moment.”

I remembered making the “Hovland is the most entertaining player” claim, but needed a search to remind me of when and where I said it and, it turns out, it was during the Arnold Palmer Invitational where Bryson DeChambeau famously took on the long carry at the horseshoe par-5 on his way to victory.

That message was sent on the Saturday and a quick check of the leaderboard reminded me, besides the obvious ‘they’re both box-office viewing’ reason, why I’d gotten my hopes up.


Spieth began the third round three, one – a birdie at the par-4 opener and a hole-in-one on the par-3 second – and Hovland, who’d yet to start his moving day round, was sitting pretty at the top of the leaderboard on -7.

The reason Spieth and Hovland didn’t end up in the final group is that they both did Spieth and Hovland things. The former bogeying two of his final five holes despite somehow saving par from a one-foot-in-the-water situation on the 16th.

Hovland, and I had to scroll a long way down the final leaderboard to find him, had gone 77, 78 at the weekend and finished tied for 49th. “His short game must’ve been awful that week” was my initial thought when I dove deeper, but no, he’d ranked 20th for the week in strokes-gained around the green and somehow never placed higher than 49th in strokes gained approach, even in rounds one and two after which he’d led.

Which in a way, explains exactly what makes him such compelling viewing. As impressive as it is to watch Scottie Scheffler play, if you forget about the unorthodox footwork on the swing, he’s almost robotic and, dare I say it, boring.

And yes, I do dare say it, because he displays almost no emotion and the emotional displays are what put Spieth and Hovland in the top tier of must-see players along with the likes of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and selected others. If his putting had matched his ball striking this year, Scottie would have 20 wins on the season, and as incredible as that would be, it would test the mettle of even the most hardcore golf viewer.

Even when Tiger Woods was scything down the opposition week after week, he somehow made it exciting with fist pumps, walking in putts, even cursing the leaked shots or missed putts, and just generally putting on a show for each and every spectator whether it was nip and tuck on the leaderboard or he was streaking ahead.

You can’t blame Scheffler for being something or someone he’s not, and his lack of emotional display aside, there are countless reasons to root for the man as he genuinely seems like a well-grounded, kind-hearted, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy.

But exciting, he is not. That’s why I was rooting for Hovland to the extent that the non-golfing fans in whose company I found myself were convinced that I had money riding on him. Why else would an Irishman be so firmly behind a Norwegian, they wondered?

Well, with Viktor, anything is possible. From coming home in 28 to shoot a course record and win a tournament, to going out in 42 and blowing himself right out of one.

Unpredictability is one of the most exciting prospects when it comes to watching golf, and if you’re going to be predictable like prime Tiger was, the least you can do is add a little spice with your reactions.

Hovland’s got both bases covered.

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