How dominant was Viktor Hovland at the 2018 U.S. Amateur? He trailed for just one hole in match play.
In the finals, Hovland made a Houdini birdie from the cliff-side ice plant 20 feet below the fourth green to go 1-up, a lead he would never relinquish.
After rattling off four straight wins from Nos. 8-11 to go 5-up, the only question remaining was how many holes Hovland would need to finish off 18-year-old Devon Bling.
Hovland became the first Norwegian to win the U.S. Amateur when he closed out Bling 6-and-5, joining the pantheon of past champions that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones.
“If I can follow Tiger and those guys in their footsteps, for a few steps, that’s more than I can ask for,” beamed the 20-year-old Hovland, a junior at Oklahoma State who helped his team win the national title in May.
— USGA (@USGA) August 20, 2018
Hovland’s convincing win was the exclamation point on a record week. He became the first player in U.S. Amateur history to pick-up back-to-back 7-and-6 wins, and the 104 holes he played in match play tied the mark for fewest ever needed by a champion.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Hovland, who will surely move up from his No. 5 world ranking. “But it definitely helps playing good golf and making putts. It’s really annoying to play against people who are making a lot of putts. I would have been very disappointed to lose since I was playing so well.”
The only time Hovland played No. 18 during match play was the finals — because it is 36 holes. Hovland made one of those annoying sand saves he referred to by draining a 10-footer after skipping his drive off the rocks to take a 4-up lead into lunchtime.
“This week, when I had to make a putt, I made the putt,” said Hovland, who led his matches an incredible 85 of the 104 holes he played. “I just putted really well. That’s why I made a lot of birdies and won by such large margins.”
Lunch will definitely taste better for Viktor Hovland after this par save! Rocks, sand, and a halve. He’s 4 up heading into the break.
— USGA (@USGA) August 19, 2018
Bling played beautifully during a 5-under 66 in the semifinals, but he struggled to a jittery 78 in the morning round of the 36-hole final. And while Bling did manage four birdies on the day, three were matched by Hovland.
— USGA (@USGA) August 19, 2018
“It’s just golf,” said Bling, the sophomore at UCLA who outplayed his No. 302 world ranking. “That’s how it is. It’s a tough game. You can hit it amazing one day, and the next day, not so much.
“It’s just the beginning, not the end. Now I get to look forward to the U.S. Open and The Masters.”
Bling and Hovland will both be back at Pebble Beach for the 2019 U.S. Open.
“I was happy to make the match play,” said Hovland, who shot an unassuming 1-over 144 in medal play, one stroke better than Bling. “Through every match, I started believing a little bit more. To be able to come back next year for the U.S. Open is going to be really special.”
WHAT WILL WE SEE AT THE 2019 U.S. OPEN?
The USGA tried some unique setups during the nine rounds Pebble Beach hosted this week:
“There was a lot of trial to see if we could use a setup from this week in 2019,” said Ben Kimball, the USGA’s Director of the U.S. Amateur. “These players have been able to show where the game has grown since 2010. The rough is probably taller than what you’ll see at the U.S. Open, but it’s also a wider Pebble Beach this week.”
The USGA was extremely interested in how the field with an average age of 22 attacked the 10th hole from a restored tee box, which was in play for most of match play. Vanderbilt’s Will Gordon drove it just short of the 364-yard par-4.
“We were curious if the wind was right, if they could make it home,” said Kimball, whose team charted the drives of all 48 golfers who played the hole on Thursday. “That tee box gives you such a beautiful look, but it’s not as strategic of a short par-4 because it’s just slightly too long.”
Both the third and fourth holes played as short par-4s under 300 yards.
“Part of winning this particular championship is not only the physical side, but also being able to deal with the mental challenges – not just provided by us, but Mother Nature as well,” said Kimball, who introduced an entirely new look on No. 3 by playing from the red tee markers in the semifinals.
Kimball admitted that the shortened third-hole setup would not be feasible during the U.S. Open, but the tees were also moved up at No. 4 during the third round of the 2010 U.S. Open.
“We can get a little more aggressive with tee and hole locations for match play than we would for the U.S. Open,” Kimball said. “These guys were fearless this week. It was all about being aggressive and attacking and making birdies.”