(Pebble Beach, Calif.) - Viktor Hovland, of Norway, capped a dominant week of golf with a 6-and-5 victory over Devon Bling on Sunday in the 36-hole final of the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links, a convincing win that was highlighted by a pair of improbable recoveries on the opening 18 of the 36-hole final.
Hovland, 20, who is No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) and a junior at Oklahoma State University, tied the record for the fewest holes needed to earn the Havemeyer Trophy (104) since the current match-play format was adopted in 1979. Hovland managed to make an incredible birdie from the ice plant some 40 feet down an embankment to the right of the fourth green to win that hole, then saved par to halve the 18th hole after hitting his tee shot into the water, preserving his 4-hole advantage over Bling through the lunch break.
“If you don’t make putts, it’s very hard to make or get momentum,” said Hovland, who helped Oklahoma State win its 11th NCAA title in May. “I felt in a couple places I made the right putts at the right time or I hit the right shots at the right time, especially against Cole Hammer [in Saturday’s semifinals]. This week, when I had to make a putt, I made the putt or hit the shot that I needed to.”
Bling, 18, a sophomore at UCLA, made seven birdies in his semifinal victory over Isaiah Salinda on Saturday, but he made six bogeys in the morning against Hovland, and on two occasions when it appeared that he had the advantage, Hovland stole it back.
On the 292-yard, par-4 fourth hole, with the match all square, Hovland drove over the cliff to the right of the green, while Bling found a greenside bunker. Hovland confirmed that it was his ball, then climbed down the ice plant-covered hillside with his 60-degree wedge.
“The slope was pretty steep, and I kind of slid on the way down there,” said Hovland. “I didn’t want to fall when I hit the shot, so I was just trying to make contact. I had a perfect lie, so the contact wasn’t really the big issue. It was just getting the right line and obviously the right distance. It was a hit-and-hope moment, and it ended up pretty sweet.”
Hovland knocked the ball to 2½ feet for a winning birdie and a lead he would not relinquish. He won three consecutive holes with pars on Nos. 8-10, then made a birdie on No. 11 for a 5-up lead. Hovland’s advantage would never slip below 4 holes the rest of the way.
“It wasn’t really surprising to me,” said Bling of Hovland’s birdie on No. 4. “He’s a great player. He’s in the championship match. You’ve got to hit shots like that to get there. It wasn’t too surprising, but definitely did hurt a little bit.”
Hovland lost the par-3 17th, and was in danger of losing No. 18 after his tee shot found the water. But he made a 12-foot putt to save par from the front bunker and keep Bling from winning consecutive holes and take momentum into the lunch break. Bling then bogeyed the first hole of the afternoon to go 5 down, and Hovland matched two of Bling’s three birdies to blunt any charge. When Bling made a sloppy double bogey on No. 11, the 29th hole of the match, it was all but over, and matching pars on No. 13 sealed the 6-and-5 verdict.
“I definitely felt like he could win this championship,” said Alan Bratton, Hovland’s coach at Oklahoma State and his caddie for the week. “Look at the year he had for us and how well he played in the British Amateur and the European Amateur. He’s the No. 5 amateur in the world. He’s a very solid, consistent player, and he showed that this week.”
Bling will join Hovland at Pebble Beach next June for the 119th U.S. Open and both players also earn a likely invitation to the Masters Tournament in April, provided they remain amateurs. Hovland is also exempt into the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
“It wasn’t the day I was hoping for, but I played really well all week,” said Bling, a rising sophomore at UCLA who had plenty of Bruin supporters following him on the weekend. “It’s just the beginning, it’s not the end. Now I get to look forward to the U.S. Open and the Masters, so that’s definitely a lot of positives coming out of this week.”
The 119th U.S. Amateur Championship will be conducted at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., Aug. 12-18, 2019. Stroke play will be conducted on Course No. 2 and Course No. 4, with match play slated to take place on No. 2.
Viktor Hovland tied the record for fewest match-play holes played by a U.S. Amateur champion since the current format of five 18-hole rounds and a 36-hole final was adopted in 1979. The fewest match-play holes played by a champion: Hovland, 104 holes, 2018; Danny Lee, 104 holes, 2008; Bryson DeChambeau, 105 holes, 2015; David Gossett, 107 holes, 1999; Hal Sutton, 109 holes, 1980; Matt Fitzpatrick, 110 holes, 2013.
Hovland is the second Norwegian-born player to win a USGA championship, joining Arne Dokka, who won the 1965 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, and he becomes the fifth player from Oklahoma State to win the U.S. Amateur. Previous Cowboys to win the championship are Peter Uihlein (2010), Scott Verplank (1984), Bob Dickson (1967) and Labron Harris (1962).
Hovland only trailed for one hole during his six matches and he won 44 of the 104 match-play holes he played.
Devon Bling, on playing in his home state:
“The support I had was unbelievable. I had friends and family and teammates, and there were people crowded in restaurants back in Ridgecrest watching. I could feel all the support, and it was great to have all that.”
Alan Bratton, Oklahoma State coach and Hovland’s caddie for the week:
“He just got better every day. He didn’t putt very well in the stroke-play portion, but starting with match play he just built momentum each day. When he had to play his best friend from Norway, [Kristoffer] Reitan, in the third round, we were going down the ninth hole and he told me he never felt calmer on a golf course [in a 7-and-6 win]. After that he never looked back.”
Hovland, on the tradition of Oklahoma State golf:
“I remember the first time I came there and just looked at all the pictures on the wall, all the names. When you win one tournament or you finish second and you play pretty good, then you get back and you look at their records, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be thinking I’m…’ It brings you down to earth. But hopefully after winning this, I can start building on my resume and get myself a picture on that wall.”