STILLWATER — The day after Viktor Hovland won the Tour Championship and claimed the season-ending FedEx Cup — and its $18 million bonus — he didn’t head to the beach or the mountains.
He went somewhere he could recharge instead.
The former Oklahoma State golfing great has made it his home, and last month before the trophy from the biggest win of his career could even gather dust, he was back in Payne County. Back at Karsten Creek, too.
“He walked in,” OSU men’s golf coach Alan Bratton said, “and everybody gave him a standing ovation.”
Entering this weekend’s Ryder Cup, Hovland isn’t the world’s top-ranked golfer, but he’s definitely the game’s hottest player. He won three times on the PGA Tour, including back-to-back weeks to finish out the season, and had nine top-10 finishes. All along the way, he flashed a huge smile that made him look more like a high school kid than a golf mercenary.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post dubbed him Team Europe’s friendly assassin.
The 26-year-old native of Norway could live anywhere in the world. Could live in the richest zip code in the fanciest house. But he lives instead in Oklahoma. Not Florida. Not Vegas. Not one of the hot spots for professional golfers.
After winning that big payday at the Tour Championship, Hovland was asked about the FedEx bonus, which dwarfs any winner’s payday at any PGA Tour tournament.
“Obviously, it’s a lot of cash you’re playing for,” he said. “It’s in the back of your mind.”
Then he paused a long moment.
“I live in Stillwater, Oklahoma,” he said finally. “Money goes a long ways there. It’s not like I’m spending money out the wazoo every week.
“I don’t need a lot to be happy.”
But talk to people who cross paths regularly with Hovland when he’s in Stillwater, and they’ll tell you that he is happy. It may well be one of the reasons he’s playing such great golf.
Team Europe golfer Viktor Hovland, an Oklahoma State alum, opens Ryder Cup play Friday in Italy. Here is the TV schedule (Times CST): 12:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday on USA; 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on NBC and Peacock; 4:30 a.m. to noon Sunday on NBC and Peacock. (Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)
‘It felt like home’
Viktor Hovland could’ve decided to live anywhere in the States after going pro in 2019.
Could’ve decided to live nowhere, too. Some pro golfers are nomads, getting hotel rooms or short-term rentals when they want to stay somewhere for a while.
But after helping OSU win a team national title in 2018, then winning the U.S. Amateur that summer and posting the low amateur score at the Masters the next spring, Hovland chose Stillwater as his home base.
“There was so much changing around him, so many things coming at him,” said Rob Land, the longtime general manager at Karsten Creek who recently became director of golf at Oak Tree National in Edmond, “and Stillwater was kind of that safe place where he could just be Viktor.
“It was what he knew. It felt like home.”
Austin Eckroat, the Edmond North High product who was Hovland’s teammate at OSU, was living in a house in Stillwater, so Hovland moved in with him. After making a few paychecks on tour, he decided to buy his own place.
He found a realtor in Stillwater.
“Find something I’d like,” Land recalls Hovland telling the realtor.
The realtor found a few options, Hovland looked at them and that was that.
Easiest house buyer of all time?
“Unbelievably easy,” Land said.
The house which is under 3,000 square feet and looks like every other house in the addition, is convenient to all that Hovland needs. Less than 10 minutes from Sprouts, his go-to grocery store. Ten minutes from Boone Pickens Stadium, where he sometimes gets in a weight lifting session with Rob Glass and Co. And most importantly, the house is only about 15 minutes from Karsten Creek, OSU golf’s home course.
Hovland doesn’t spend a ton of time in Stillwater — Land estimates between six and eight weeks a year — but every time Hovland comes back into town, he reaches out to Bratton and asks what the team’s practice schedule is.
“And he jumps right in,” Bratton said.
Back in March, Hovland failed to make the weekend match-play matches at the World Golf Championships. He had driven from Stillwater to Austin for the tournament, and he came straight home after missing the cut.
(It would be the only one he missed all season.)
The next day, Bratton had his team at Stillwater Country Club for a qualifying round. Because it was winter, the greens had been punched — an aerating machine makes little holes every few inches, a process that keeps the surface healthy in the long term but leaves it resembling Swiss cheese in the short term — and the weather was not great.
“He was out there playing with our guys and just grinding like he was trying to win a major championship,” Bratton said. “He could have taken the day off easily; most people would do that.”
Bratton considers Hovland’s presence a blessing to the Cowboys. First, he’s a living, breathing example of what’s possible; he was a college golfer only four years ago and now he’s a star. But in addition to that, he’s extremely giving of his expertise. He talks to the current Cowboys about how to navigate the PGA Tour. He offers suggestions. Advice. Tips.
Last month when Hovland was back in Stillwater, Cowboy fifth-year senior Dillon Stewart was struggling with a couple of things and went to Hovland for help. He offered some tips and more, even as he was preparing to head back to Europe and prep for the Ryder Cup.
“Send me swing videos,” Stewart remembers Hovland telling him, “and keep me posted (on) how it’s going.”
Stewart has done just that, and Hovland has been responsive.
“Even though he’s, you know, got to go play the Ryder Cup,” Stewart said.
Of course, it’s possible Hovland thinks he needs to be extra nice to Stewart — he has the key to Hovland’s house.
Team Europe golfer Viktor Hovland hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during a practice day for the Ryder Cup golf competition at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
‘He’s just another teammate’
Dillon Stewart is just Viktor Hovland’s latest renter.
For a couple of years, Brian Stark rented a room in Hovland’s house. He transferred to Texas a year ago, so Stewart knew Hovland had space. When Stewart’s plans for a place to live fell through, he reached out to Hovland.
“Do you mind if I live with you?” Stewart asked.
Hovland quickly agreed.
Stewart has to pay rent, a requirement by NCAA compliance rules, but he acts as something of a caretaker when Hovland’s not there. When a delivery arrives at the house, something Stewart says happens a lot, he brings in the boxes from Titleist or J.Lindeberg or wherever. When a problem arises, he figures out what to do.
“Like our smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors just went out,” Stewart said earlier this week, “so I did purchase new ones this morning on Amazon.”
Renting from Hovland might require a bit more work, but the tradeoff is living with a pro golfer.
Stewart says he tries to give Hovland his space when he’s home, but the way Hovland is around the team, not only practicing and playing but also having lunch and hanging out in the Cowboys’ locker room, he is never standoffish.
If he decides to watch a movie — he’s into everything from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to war epics — Stewart joins in. If Hovland is listening to a podcast, one of his new favorite things to do, Stewart doesn’t bother him, but later, the two might end up talking about something Hovland heard.
Most of what he listens to has nothing to do with golf. Maybe a few health and fitness podcasts, but more politics and history and culture.
“We got on a topic about aliens one time,” Stewart said.
Stewart recognizes how unique something like that is. Not every 22-year-old college kid lives with a pro athlete. When he goes home to Colorado, his golf friends often ask about Hovland and geek out over the fact Stewart lives under the same roof.
“To me, he’s just another teammate,” Stewart said.
“He doesn’t play in our tournaments and stuff, but when he’s home and we have qualifying rounds, he’s out there and he wants to beat us just as bad as we want to beat him.”
A detail view of the Puma shoes worn by Viktor Hovland during a practice round of the Ryder Cup golf competition. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
‘When he comes home, he’s just Viktor’
Viktor Hovland isn’t going to live in Stillwater forever.
He’s already purchased land near Oak Tree, home to numerous Cowboys now playing professionally. He regularly makes the hour drive to play with Austin Eckroat or Zach Bauchou or Kevin Tway.
And yet, Hovland launched his pro career from Stillwater. He has been on a steady ascent, and those who know him best believe his home base has been no small part of his early success.
“He’s surrounded by excellence every day when he walked into the clubhouse at Karsten Creek,” said Bratton, the OSU coach.
“And there’s an accountability.”
But as much as anything, the pace of life in Stillwater seems to fit Hovland.
“He’s pretty simple,” Bratton said.
Land, the former Karsten GM, said, “He just flies under the radar. He does his deal. People leave him alone. I think that’s probably one of the biggest draws. He can just take care of his business and not be on stage all the time.”
OSU, of course, is a golf school, so people in Stillwater know their golfers. There’s little doubt he gets recognized grocery shopping, even when he wears a ballcap, T-shirt and gym shorts.
But people asking for autographs or pictures?
“When he comes home, he’s just Viktor,” Land said. “When he’s on tour, he’s a top-five player in the world and the level of attention and the people wanting things from him and demanding of his time, it’s gotta be exhausting. When he comes back here, all that goes away.
“It’s time to relax, to kind of reenergize himself.”
Anyone who knows anything about golf recognizes that Hovland’s success isn’t all about where he lives. He has worked diligently, for example, on his short game. He talked earlier this week in a Ryder Cup press conference about partnering with Joe Mayo, dubbed a new-age swing guru by Golf Magazine.
“He basically just explained the physics of why I didn’t have a great short game before,” Hovland said. “It wasn’t because I wasn’t talented enough or I didn’t have the ‘hands to do it.’ I was essentially just getting a little too shallow into the ball and getting way behind it.
“Obviously, it takes a while for it to feel comfortable and do it in tournaments, but as soon as I got the feel and it clicked to me, it was just a matter of putting the work in and getting more comfortable.”
Comfort, though, is something Hovland doesn’t have to worry about when he’s in Stillwater.
It’s the place he left Norway for. It’s where he found not only a golf team but a golf family.
And now, it’s where he gravitates whenever he can.
“When you’re comfortable and have people that truly care about you and are not just there for the highs but they’re also there for the lows,” Stewart said, “I think that helps a lot with your career, whatever you’re doing.”
Just so happens, Viktor Hovland is taking over the golf world.