Viktor Hovland: How to Prepare for a Major
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Viktor Hovland: How to Prepare for a Major

viktor hovland

We sit down with Viktor Hovland to talk about how he’s getting ready for the US Open at Winged Foot. We talk about what he’s working on in his golf swing and the strategy he takes toward choosing targets and right clubs around a US Open venue.

This conversation was recorded in conjunction with GOLF.COM and CISCO in their Road to Winged Foot series.

Cordie:
Welcome. This is the road to winged foot powered by Cisco WebEx, and we’re excited to hang out with Viktor Hovland for a little bit and hear about some of his prep for this year’s U.S. Open Winged Foot. Victor. How’s it going?

Viktor:
Good. Thanks for having me on.

Cordie:
Absolutely. So this week – your prep – you’re getting ready the week before. What does it look like? What are you doing?

Viktor:
Well, I just came home from a three-week stretch. So first of all, it’s a matter of resting up a little bit, just recharging the batteries, but it’s obviously U.S. Open week next week, and, as we know, you have to draw the ball really straight and ball-striking is really essential out there. I’m just doing a couple of fine-tuning, around my ball striking and hopefully, we’ll be ready come next week.

Cordie:
Do you have any favorite games or drills that you’re working on right now to help you dial some of that in?

Viktor:
So I was using on the range last week, Total Golf Trainer or something like that – it has like a red ball and you can bend it in certain different ways to kind of help your wrist move a certain way. I’m working on that a little bit, but mostly, I like to spend, time in front of a mirror and get a visual for it and then try to implement the feel that way.

Cordie:
What do you work on right now? Something the backswing and the downswing.

Cordie:
It’s very simple backswing stuff. You know, I’ve never been a fan of doing a lot of stuff kind of in the downswing or do stuff that happens later; because that’s all the reaction to what you do early in the golf swing. So it’s managing, and making sure that my club doesn’t get stuck behind me, just more in front of my hands going back, and then hopefully that will take care of the stuff going after that.

Cordie:
So the question is, and I think every golfer has this, is where does my swing go from the range to the first tee, right? You’re about to step onto mildly pressure filled first tee, the U.S. Open – that’s an understatement. How do you get that swing to stay with you? Or how do you make those swing changes stick? That’s always so tough.

Cordie:
Yeah, honestly, I haven’t really had that problem. Personally, if I’m hitting it like crap on the range, I’m probably going to hit it like crap on the court. That’s just me personally, if I’m hitting it really good on the driving range, I’m probably going to hit it, pretty good on the golf course. Now that doesn’t always mean that I’m going to shoot a good or a bad score, because that matters, with how you play with your dispersion. You can hit a good shot, but just pull it a little left of where you were aiming and you end up in deep trouble, compared to if you miss it on the right side – you’re going to have a lot easier shots. There’s a lot of things that play into that, but for me personally, if I’m playing really good in practice, I’m probably going to be hitting it pretty good on the golf course as well.

Cordie:
How are you hitting it right now during practice – where’s the game at?

Cordie:
Honestly? The last couple months have been a little tough for me, through the green, but I’ve actually been putting the ball a lot better, and chipping’s come along nicely. So the last the last few events I’ve really hit it bad, but with kind of good short game and just scrambling the ball really well, I’ve been able to make the cut and kind of gain enough points to get into East at least. Over the weekend it was kind of reversed a little bit, I have more fairways, I have more greens, but didn’t make anything at all, and that’s just kind of how the game of golf is, but definitely need to work on my long game a little bit and, hopefully if I get that down, the U.S. Open, is going to be fun.

Cordie:
Have you played Winged Foot before?

Viktor:
I’ve never, no, but I’ve heard it’s going to be a good test.

Cordie:
Do you have any kind of, or have you seen any data or any ideas on what kind of strategy? Or, are you going in pretty cold?

Viktor:
I’m going in blind, so you probably know more than me. So, if you know something I don’t feel free to give me a little lesson.

Cordie:
Well, you’ve done well in USGA, obviously you have the U.S. AM win and then last year had an insane finish, you know, as an amateur, is phenomenal at the U.S. Open. Did you go in blind, a pebble? Had you been there before, before you won the U.S. AM?

Viktor:
So we had played a college event out there, called Carmel Cup. So I believe I had played that tournament twice, or maybe just once, I believe I played it twice. I’d seen the golf course, maybe 10 times, before showing up at the US AM, but obviously the conditions are way different. Normally, every day, pebble beach kind of plays like a resort golf course, and then for the USGA events, they just completely change it. The greens are firm and fast and rough – it’s really thick and, fairways are even narrower. Now that’s going to be a little different for Winged Foot, because I’ve never seen the golf course before, but sometimes it doesn’t help you all that much, if you’ve seen the course in a way different condition, because then you’re kind of used to playing the golf course in that way. Then it’s just so different from that particular way you played it. I don’t think that it’s necessarily is a bad thing. We have two practice rounds or more than that, should you need it, to kind of map out what you need to do.

Cordie:
Are you a golfer that enjoys trying to break par and being around par or do you enjoy more of the shootouts or you go into 20 under plus? Which is more in your cup of tea?

Viktor:
I think it’s a good mix. I like to do both. I think it’s very rewarding to play awesome golf and shoot one over or even par one under, I just think that’s very rewarding. As a golfer, you know that, ‘okay, I shot an under par today, that was no fluke’. Sometimes you can play an easier course and you can shoot five, six, seven under, and you know that you would have struggled at another place. You just kind of missed it on the right sides and got hot, but you just can’t fake it. It has to be a balance too, it can’t just be silly hard where you’re hitting good shots and you’re making bogey regardless. I thought Olympia Fields, which we played a couple of weeks ago, that was such an awesome test of golf. It was playing super difficult, but it was still fair. If you played while you were shooting a good score.

Cordie:
So you’ve performed well on Majors; do you enjoy that ramped up pressure a little bit more? Is that helpful? Are the first tee jitters a little more real during a Major for you?

Viktor:
Yeah. Now it is a little different now with no fans, but man, I remember, walking up to the first tee at the Masters last year and yeah, you’re in a little different mental situation. You’re basically just trying to hit the ball and not do anything too stupid, just you know, get the show started, but then once you get going a little bit, it’s easier to relax You for sure notice the atmosphere is a little different when you step it up in a major.

Cordie:
What’s worse for you? I don’t know. Is it the first tee shot or the first putt where it’s like you have your hands shake a little bit when you grip the putter.

Viktor:
That’s a good question.

Cordie:
Which one is it for you? I can’t handle the first put, man, that first put sucks.

Viktor:
It depends a little bit, you get on the gusta, then you get like a nasty seven footer downhill slider. I’d probably be a little bit more nervous over that putt then maybe the first tee shot, but it makes a big difference – you piping a drive 300 yards down the middle on the first tee versus, hooking it into the left trees. That’s a big difference on where you want to start. Worst case at a gusta – you can three putt, but most of the time you’re probably just going to tee putt, you know? So if you just get on the green in two, you know that par is not going to hurt you that much, so it goes both ways.

Cordie:
So let let’s talk strategy when you head out there and you’re playing some practice rounds. What do you look for? How do you choose what you hit off? If you’re gonna hit off tee boxes, choosing your targets and that stuff. Do you have like a formula or any kind of strategy that you’re using for that?

Viktor:
I’m sure a lot of other guys, they have stats guys to tell them, “OK. You probably need to hit it this far on this hole and you know, it’s so and so wide at certain distances, but my strengths are usually off the tee. I don’t hit it the longest, but I hit it fairly straight when I’m on; so for me, that makes sense to take advantage of that. In maybe some places where guys select to hit irons for three woods off the tee; I feel like I need to use that strength and hit driver and gain some shots there. I’m pretty aggressive. It doesn’t really take me a whole lot of time to figure out what club I need to hit. I will driver and see how it goes and then make some adjustments after that. But, a lot of it is “okay, which side is better to miss on”. Sometimes the angle is better from the left side of the rough or the right side of the rough; and then just around the greens, just get used to how many, how firm the first bounce is and getting used to a couple of slopes and seeing where they’re probably gonna put them.

Cordie:
From a stats perspective, looking backwards, I love that perspective of let’s hit driver and then see if we have to change it later or not. I think that’s awesome. Does it change though the week, with the super long rough, and really tight off the tee? During a normal week, that seems to make a ton of sense, but this week, does that change at all for you? Or are you just keep plowing ahead with that?

Viktor:
Yeah, it depends a little bit on the hole. If it’s super narrow up there, where you’re going to hit a driver? It makes sense to stay a little further back and hit a three wood at the fatter portion of the fairway. But the thing is, I feel like a lot of northern style golf courses are kind of the same width, the whole way, tree line and then rough on both sides. In that case, if you want to miss, it’s better to be 30 yards further up in the rough than being 30 yards shorter and in the rock. Personally, I almost hit my driver straighter than the three wood, so then it makes even more sense to just hit it as hard as I can with a driver – if it’s in a fairway, great, I can take advantage of it – and if it’s in the rough, well, hopefully I got a short enough club where I can still make it par.

Cordie:
I love that strategy, it makes a ton of sense. Let’s talk targets maybe into holes, into greens. Are you someone that kind of aims at the middle of the green and just tries to hit as many greens as possible? Are you someone that takes on flags all the time?

Viktor:
Yeah. Well, I’d say my weakness has been so far as I’ve been on tour is around the greens. I haven’t been able to scramble as much as I probably would have liked. So then in that case, you know, maybe a Phil Mickelson, he can go for more pens. He knows that now, well, if I missed a green, it’s not the end of the world. That’s almost still a birdie opportunity in some cases. For me, I kind of want to just play for the middle part of the green. Now that doesn’t mean I’m super conservative. I’m just placing my dispersion where my pattern is, and then finding a point where if I miss it left of my dispersion pattern, it’s still going to be on the green. Then if I push it, it might be closer to the pen. For example, a pen is on the right side of the green, I may lean more left, if I pull it still on the green. If I push it, it’s going to be really good – so just trying to be smart. You know that playing the US Open, you’re not going to have to shoot 20 under par to win the tournament. You just really have to pick your battles, and when you’re out of position, don’t try to force anything, just get out of there and make a bogey and move on to the next hole.

Cordie:
Any kind of lessons you learned from the U.S. Open last year, obviously playing so well, and in the US AM; any kind of lessons you’ve learned from playing tougher golf courses or any keys that changed compared to a normal week?

Viktor:
Yeah, I guess, I hate the word, but I guess patience is a very good lesson to take with you. I’m super impatient. I just want to go out there and make every single putt and make birdies every single hole, but you could three putt the first hole and make a bogey and miss a green on the second hole, and you’re thinking, Oh, it’s just going to be that kind of day, but because everyone’s going to hit bad shots, if you make a bogey with your bad shots, you’re bound to hit good shots and a couple of par four, par fives, you can sneak up there – close to the green in two and you can make it up now, make it birde and get momentum that way. So it’s like, you don’t have to play that spectacular to shoot a good score, but you just can’t lose your head. I think if you just play within yourself, don’t try to do anything you can’t do, just play very simple golf. I think that’s essentially a key to not winning the U.S. Open, but just playing good.

Cordie:
What is the self talk that you want to hear from yourself? What does it sound like after two or three bogeys when it doesn’t go quite right on that front nine or whatever it might be, right? What do you hope that conversation is like with yourself – cause it might happen, right?

Viktor:
Yeah, I can already tell you, it’s probably going to be “Man you suck”, but you try to at least after that initial response, it’s more of, “okay, well we got a couple of shorter falls or just try to build some momentum back and hit some good shots again”. Fortunately my memory is very short term, so if I start hitting it good again those bogeys are not the end of the world. It’s if you dwell on it and then just keep making more and more mistakes that’s what really kills you. You still have to comment on the bad shots that you hit and the mistakes you made, but then quickly get over it and then try to get back in there and fight.

Cordie:
A question I always love asking is, what’s your current swing thought or what do you think your swing thought’s going to be for the week? Any ideas on the feel that’s working or might get you through the week?

Viktor:
Yeah, I don’t really like to think too much when I’m playing, if I’m playing really well, I essentially try to not really make it as complicated as it could be. A lot of it is just kind of seeing shots, shaping shots. Sometimes you can do both, which is awesome. Because then you can pick the one that fits the hole best, but sometimes, many times, that I’ve experienced, because I usually hit a little left ride with my driver and sometimes the holes just doesn’t fit that, instead of trying to go crazy with it and really have to draw it. I’m just going to try to squeeze this cut in certain places. So I think just for me, keeping it very simple, and playing within my abilities and try to do the best I can with that. Instead of, well, I have to change this to play this hole and then I have to change this to play that hole. I think that’s kind of how you lose yourself a little bit.

Cordie:
Awesome, so let’s wrap with this. What are the keys for you for the U.S. Open? So, you’re working on your back swing a little bit right now – trying to get that dialed in, and your short game has been good lately. What are some of the keys for you? What do you think is going to help you at winged foot here and win this thing?

Viktor:
Obviously, you got to make a lot of putts and putting has a lot of, it can go your way and then you can limp out. Sometimes you just never know you can hit a perfect putt and it just doesn’t go your way. But over 72 holes, if you just hit enough, good putts and hit enough good shots it might go your way. Hopefully I can figure something out with my golf swing and find that confidence where I feel like I don’t have to think that much, then just go out there and play golf and make a couple of putts and build on that momentum.

Cordie:
Awesome. Thanks Viktor. Really appreciate it.

Viktor:
Thank you guys. Thanks for having me on.

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