Viktor Hovland’s form over the past couple of years has cemented his place among the top golfers of our times and saw him ranked as high as 3 in January 2022. He is, without doubt, the best golfer Norway has ever produced. Every top player will talk of some special training exercise or moment of inspiration that helped him find the extra two percent that spells the difference between a journeyman pro and an event winner. For Hovland, there were two such inspirations. Playing poker and online learning.
Stats and mind games
Golf is probably one of the most physically exacting sports when it comes to technique. You might see NFL quarterbacks with sidearm actions or international cricketers who don’t move their feet to the pitch of the ball, and their natural talent still sees them excel. In golf, the smallest defect in your swing can be your undoing at the highest level. Yet despite the necessity of pinpoint physical accuracy, the mental side to golf should not be underestimated.
Hovland says his game has benefited immeasurably by time spent one on one with his swing coach Jeff Smith – playing poker. He said there is a lot that can be taken from poker and applied to golf. Hovland talks about the “stats and stuff,” which actually makes plenty of sense when you look at the modern game. You can have all the talent but you also need to know how to play the percentages. When to risk it all, when to lay up on the fairway. The current obsession with strokes gained makes it even more important.
Poker is also similar to golf in that it is highly repetitive. During a tournament, a player might be at the table for eight hours a day for three days, playing a hand approximately every two minutes. See the similarity? If you want to try a few hands of poker yourself to see if it helps your golf game, you don’t need a swing coach to play against. The Tight Poker site (https://www.tightpoker.com/) lists a dozen or so reputable online poker platforms that welcome players from the US and all around the world.
Other online practice
The internet can help you develop your golf games in other ways as well as providing online poker opportunities. As one of golf’s new Generation-Z cohort, that’s something Hovland knows very well. Growing up in Oslo meant long summer days to practice his swing, but in winter, the short days and heavy snowfall make it impossible to get out on the links.
Hovland spent the winter months immersed in online learning, soaking up all the information he could find on everything from lectures from retired pros to technical analysis of different types of grip.
His methods might be unconventional according to traditionalists, but it might just foreshadow the shape of things to come. After all, Hovland won his first PGA title within a year of turning pro and followed it up with another just nine months later. Still just 25, the best could be yet to come.
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?