Hovland just one of the gang at Oak Tree National

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By Ken MacLeod
Photos by Chad Hamilton

While European Ryder Cup hero and FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland joked and laughed at one table, his FedEx Cup trophy was making a good pass-around beer stein at the next.

That was the easy-going scene following the first round of the 2023 Pro-Scratch Invitational at Oak Tree National in Edmond Thursday, where 30 pros, most with strong Oklahoma ties, and their amateur partners battled a strong south wind and a Pete Dye masterpiece with all of its fangs grown back following a 2022 conversion to firm and fast Bermuda greens.

Hovland and partner Ian Davis, the 2022 Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur champion, combined to shoot 2-under  69, tied for 12th and three shots behind leaders Taylor Moore and Trevor Stafford, who combined on a 5-under 66. Three teams shot 67, pro Robert Streb with Danny Mitchell, pro Charles Howell III with Heath Myers and pro Tom Whitney with Zack Winkler.

While there are stars of the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, Korn and Korn Ferry Tour in the field, Hovland was the natural No. 1 attraction for the many members who came out thanks to his incredible fall in which he rose to No. 4 in the world rankings behind only Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Yet there is no pretense of stardom with Hovland at OTN where he plays and practices frequently, particularly now that Karsten Creek in Stillwater is closed for an extensive renovation.

Hovland enjoys Oak Tree National and the membership and it loves him right back.

“When it comes to Viktor, the smile you see on TV and the personality you think you know is exactly who he is,” said tournament chairman Ryan Munson, who played with Josh Creel in Hovland’s group Thursday. “He’s completely down-to-earth and one of the easiest people to cheer for I’ve ever been around.”

Tournament chairman Ryan Munson and Josh Creel

Alas, Hovland had some bad news for Oklahomans who have come to cheer for him as one of their own after seven and a half years living in Stillwater, where he led Oklahoma State to the 2018 NCAA Championship and went on to become a favorite son while rising in the pro ranks. He is going to move next week to Florida and room with former teammate and fellow Norwegian Kris Ventura, putting off if not ending plans to build a house near Oak Tree National. However he’s keeping his place in Stillwater and expects to be a frequent guest at the least if he makes the Florida move permanent.

It was Hovland’s first competitive round since the Ryder Cup in Rome ended Oct. 1 with Hovland going 3-1-1 including the 9 and 7 foursomes victory with Ludvig Aberg over Brooks Koepka and Scheffler. Since then he has spent three weeks at home in Norway seeing family and friends and a quick trip to Malta. His only two events this fall will be an event on the DP World Tour and in Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge Nov. 30-Dec. 3.

While his vastly improved short game has made a huge difference in elevating his play in 2023, Hovland gave plenty of credit to Oak Tree National in getting him prepared for what he accomplished.

“Every time I’m in town I come down here and play,” he said. “There’s so many guys to play with and the course is so hard, it tests every part of your game. Off the tee it’s not that challenging but if you spray it you’re going to have a hard time shooting a good score. From the second shot in, it’s as hard as most any course we play. You have a great combination of longer clubs and shorter clubs and tight angles into the greens. With the greens being so firm you really have to control your ball.”

His work with short game guru Joe Mayo was a huge factor in Hovland’s ascendant 2023, in which he won The Memorial then closed with consecutive victories in the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship. He said he now knows he can still shoot under par on an off day.

“The last six months has been incredible,” he said. “I have rounds now when I’m not hitting it well and can still get around in 1 or 2 under, then if the ball striking turns around go 6 or 7 under and get in contention. Obviously I hit my stride there the last part of the season but I still feel I can improve a few things. But yeah, it was cool to see that I was able to play that well. That makes me a lot calmer and more confident going forward.”

While he loves the way Oak Tree National is playing since the greens conversion, he’s also been giving plenty of input to Mike Holder, architect Andrew Green and OSU coach Alan Bratton on the renovation under way at Karsten Creek.

“The guys like me who have played it a million times and know every bit of the course and also go on the road and see a lot of other courses know what needs to change,” he said.  “Karsten Creek is mostly driver then go right at the flag because the greens are super soft. You just have to add some creativity. The ball has to bounce a bit. It’s an unbelievable piece of property but not quite what it should be to prepare us, that’s why I enjoy coming down here so much.

“I took a trip up there a couple of days ago and it’s amazing to see how much work they’ve done already. I think it’s going to be really, really good.”

The Pro-Scratch Invitational concludes with 18 holes Friday. Temperatures are expected to plunge in the morning with a strong wind out of the north, presenting a different challenge to the one the competitors faced Thursday.

Oak Tree National Pro-Scratch leaders
Par 71

66, Taylor Moore and Trevor Stafford

67, Tom Whitney and Zack Winkler; Charles Howell III and Heath Myers; Robert Streb and Danny Mitchell

68, Logan McCracken and Dustin Wigington; Austin Eckroat and Bill Bishop; Michael Gellerman and Tom Maxwell; Zach Bauchou and Conrad Walcher; Corey Hale and Tag Horner; Max McGreevy and Drew Ison; Matthew Wolfe and Trent Leon

  1. Viktor Hovland and Ian Davis; Quade Cummins and Cooper Johnson;
  2. Jared Strathe and Sky Ryland; Paul Haley II and Mark Schultz; Charlie Saxon and David Kurtz Jr.; Andrew Beckler and Kael McFarland; Luke Long and Nathan Brown; Scott Gutschewski and Scott Tridle; Peter Uihlein and Tyler Leon
  3. Martin Flores and David Schultz; Blaine Haile and Kyle Hudelson; Cameron Meyers and Caleb Meyers; Chris Gotterup and Franco Castro
  4. Brady Schnell and David Easley; Allistair Docherty and Daniel Snoey; James Nitties and Michael Ray; Jonathan Brightwell and Charlie Crouse; Logan McAllister and Joseph Lemieux

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Ken MacLeod

Publisher Golf Oklahoma | Oklahoma's No. 1 Golf Source