Viktor Hovland wins 2023 Tour Championship to claim season-ending FedEx Cup
When Viktor Hovland won the Hero World Challenge in December, it put a bow on a year that was defined by close calls but otherwise was short on victory. For some, it would have represented a time to kick back, enjoy the holidays and assume his end-of-the-season winning form would be a springboard to bigger things, but not Hovland. He sought to get better and that meant it was time to re-make himself into a more complete player.
“If you want to get to the next level, you have to look introspectively,” he said. “I think when you try to be honest with yourself and ask yourself, OK, how can I get better, I just basically have to force myself to change a couple of these mindset things.”
All the hard work – to his swing, short game, use of Aim Point and course strategy – paid off, culminating in back-to-back wins and a prize of $18 million as the FedEx Cup champion. On another hot, humid day that led to a nearly two-hour weather delay, Hovland carded a 7-under 63 at East Lake Golf Club and rolled to a five-stroke victory over Xander Schauffele in the 30-man Tour Championship, the 47th event of the 2022-23 season and third and final leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“He just keeps his foot on the pedal,” three-time FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy said, “just isn’t scared.”
No fear and a refusal to be complacent are attributes that have made the 25-year-old Norwegian a three-time winner this season and one of the best players in the game. Despite winning the U.S. Amateur in 2018 and finding immediate success on the PGA Tour as one of the best ballstrikers in golf, Hovland grew frustrated with his consistency last season.
“It’s a little frustrating showing up to events when you don’t feel like you have your best stuff,” he said before winning in the Bahamas in December. “You don’t have the confidence over the ball thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to stuff this 7-iron,’ because that’s what I used to do when I first came out here and the last two years basically it’s been pretty deadly from the fairway.”
Hovland’s frustration boiled over and in his search to identify flaws in his game that could help him challenge for world No. 1, he changed swing coaches in January, hiring Joe Mayo, better known in social media circles as the Trackman Maestro.
“It is amazing that a player could win a tournament and not be happy with themselves,” Mayo said of Hovland switching coaches shortly after a win, but Mayo’s seen pros who have attributed a win to “smoke and mirrors.”
Switching coaches can be a risky proposition for a player. It can be a recipe for disaster but Mayo noted that Hovland is too savvy to let that happen.
“He’s not gonna let any instructor screw him up,” Mayo said. “He’s too smart for it. He’s got a great bullshit meter, as I would say.”
Mayo studied 3-D imaging of Hovland’s swing and helped him reestablish a repeatable swing and restore faith in his squeeze cut. Hovland said he’s had his best driving season. East Lake is too difficult to play from its wiry rough but Hovland, who ranked first in driving accuracy for the second straight week, could be aggressive and go flag-hunting.
“His ballstriking is probably top 3 on Tour, especially when he’s playing well,” said Edoardo Molinari, a winner of three DP Tour titles, who doubles as Hovland’s performance coach. “He doesn’t miss a shot.”
His short-game was another story. Early in his career, Hovland admitted his chipping game “sucked.” He ranked 191st in Strokes Gained: Around the Green last season.
“Before, when I was standing over every shot, I was like, ‘Don’t duff it, skull it, don’t leave it in the bunker,” Hovland said last week. “Me and a buddy of mine, we made up this saying: Just land it on and keep it on. We set the bar pretty low when we had a chip. Now it’s a lot of fun to be able to open up that face and just slap the ground and put some friction on the ball.”
At the Tour Championship, Hovland ranked first in scrambling as he notched his sixth career PGA Tour title. Mayo said he didn’t even discuss the short game with Hovland during their first month together. On Tuesday of the Genesis Invitational in February, Mayo told his pupil, “Anybody that can put a 4-iron on the back of the ball at 105 miles an hour and hit it 240, are you telling me that you can’t chip a golf ball? I don’t accept that, and I don’t buy it.”