Stocked with Red Bulls, heavy metal and podcasts, young gun Viktor Hovland drives into Motor City

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Barely a year removed from school, Viktor Hovland still passes for a college kid.

He showed up at Wednesday morning's presser at Detroit Golf Club still wearing his player badge — because, yes, even as a winner on the PGA Tour, he still gets asked to show his ID.

"I do, yes," he said with a big grin. "No exceptions."

Viktor Hovland at last year's Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Hovland, 22, who still lives in the shadows of his school, Oklahoma State, also has the energy of a kid pulling all-nighters to prepare for the big exam.

Since the PGA Tour's restart, Hovland actually has been driving from stop to stop. He drove from Oklahoma to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Colonial, then drove through the night to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for the RBC Heritage. Then it was on to the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut.

And, finally, he drove from Connecticut to Detroit for this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic.

In one drive, his caddie kept him company, but otherwise, it's been just Hovland, alone with his thoughts — and his energy drinks. On the drive from Texas to South Carolina, he chugged six Red Bulls.

More: 'Swing for the fences': Ryan Brehm won't hold back in return to PGA Tour

PGA Tour players are picking multiple ways to travel from town to town these days, given everything that's going on, particularly the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. The PGA Tour has provided a charter, attempting to secure its so-called bubble. But not everybody's taking advantage, for whatever reason.

"I just want to drive, because I like to drive," said Hovland, who's been on the PGA Tour for a little over a calendar year now. "I like to be kind of in my own head, listen to music, listen to podcasts. I was thinking during this whole pandemic thing as well, having to get on the charters at specific times, even though I have to get in the car and drive 15 hours, it's still a lot more convenient because I can go whenever I want to go. And I can also pack more stuff in the car.

"It's just like a little bit more freedom in that way."

Other players have chosen to drive, as well, including Will Gordon, who finished tied for third at last week's Travelers Championship to earn $436,600 and special temporary exemption on the PGA Tour.

For Gordon, 23, his reasoning was COVID-19 related, even though he could've afforded his own private jet.

"I mean, yeah, I'm not ready for that, that bill mentally," said Gordon, who had received a sponsor's exemption into the tournament before his showing at the Travelers, which earned him an automatic spot — affording the exemption to another player. "On Thursday or Friday, I decided to drive just to kind of keep my circle small. You know, as this COVID thing continues to be a real issue to kind of everything going on, I just wanted to keep my bubble really small, so my caddie and I just kept the same car and we drove.

"It wasn't that bad of a drive."

Bubba Watson, one of the headliners in this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic field, also found his own mode of transportation to Detroit from Connecticut, his famous bus, as he was seen by locals on the course at Oakland Hills Country Club on Sunday night, hours after wrapping up at the Travelers.

Brian Stuard, a Jackson native and Oakland University alum, also purchased a bus shortly before the restart. It's something he's thought about for some time, and the COVID-19 situation pushed him to do it. From Colonial to Hilton Head to Travelers to Detroit, he's split the driving duties with girlfriend Alicia.

For those golfers who aren't passionate road-trippers, the PGA Tour, as part of its restart plan, booked charter planes for players going from one stop to the next. The cost is $600 for PGA Tour players and caddies, and $300 for Korn Ferry Tour players and caddies.

Players and caddies are tested for COVID-19 on Sundays, and if they test negative, they are allowed to board the plane on Monday.

More: 'This could be the break he needed': Canton's Donnie Trosper to let it fly at RMC

For the first three tournaments, players and caddies tested before the charter plane didn't have to be tested again upon entry into the next stop. But starting with Detroit, the PGA Tour retested everyone, given the surge of COVID-19 cases on the PGA Tour. Six players and two caddies have tested positive.

"That just reminds us of how easily this spreads," Hovland said. "We need to take precautions."

Hovland plans to keep on driving for a couple more weeks, playing of the next two tournaments, both at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. He'll then return home to Oklahoma for a week off, and that probably will be where the driving ends, before the World Golf Championship event in Memphis, Tennessee, followed by the PGA Championship in San Francisco.

For now, he'll keep on trucking — OK, Lexus-ing — and listening to his heavy metal and his podcasts of choice, including Joe Rogan's and Sam Harris' "Making Sense" podcast.

And, he hopes he keeps on firing on all cylinders on the golf course, too. This season, he's had five top-25s, including his first win, at the Puerto Rico Open in February. He's already up to No. 45 in the world rankings. It was only last June that he began his professional career, first with a tie for 54th at the Travelers, followed by a tie for 13th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. 

He received a sponsor's exemption into last year's Rocket, and was so grateful, he plans to be a regular here. (Another young star, Matthew Wolff, got one too in 2019, and also is back.)

"Without those, I wouldn't be where I am today," said Hovland, who grew up in Norway, and used Detroit as a springboard to success, following that showing with another tie for 13th, a tie for 16th and a fourth-place finish to close his season — and he's kept rolling into this season.

"I feel like I should come back to a lot of these events and show some support and loyalty to the people that paid a dividend to get me where I am today.

"It's a pleasure to come back to Detroit."


Rocket Mortgage Classic

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Detroit Golf Club

Defending champion: Nate Lashley

Notable players: Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na, Danny Willett, Kevin Kisner, Erik van Rooyen, Christian Bezuidenhout, Bubba Watson, Matt Wallace, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh

TV: Thursday-Friday — Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m; Saturday-Sunday — Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984