US PGA Championship: Local hero Viktor Hovland addresses poor chipping stats

The Norwegian showed admirable honesty when assessing the pros and cons of his title bid at Southern Hills, a course he knows better than most.

A contender for strangest stat on the PGA Tour is Viktor Hovland ranking 210th out of 210 for Strokes Gained: Around The Green.

He's some way last too. How could it be that one of the game's rising stars - the World No. 6 no less - has the worst numbers on tour in an area that is such a key part of the game?

With three PGA Tour wins and two others on the DP World Tour it hardly seems to be bothering him too much.

And yet, when it comes to the game's ultimate tests - the Majors - perhaps Hovland's shortcomings around the green are having an effect.

While his record in Majors is hardly shabby, it's a genuine surprise that the Norwegian is yet to post a top 10.

He's been close: tied 12th in last year's Open along with tied 12th and tied 13th in the 2019 and 2020 US Opens.

But perhaps with a better short game those would have been turned into top fives and actual title challenges.

The concern for Hovland at Southern Hills this week is that the club's director of golf, Cary Cozby, came out with this comment: "Whoever wins here is going to have to be a great chipper."

The course now has shaved run-off areas rather than thick greenside rough, meaning balls that don't hold the green are flung down slopes. As Justin Thomas put it: "It's tough to chip. I mean the balls roll off the green, they go pretty far away."

When previews were written about this event around the turn of the year, Hovland was being put forward as a potential great bet given that he went to Oklahoma State and still lives in the area.

His ability to handle the strong prevailing winds as well as having other home comforts would surely give him an advantage. Hovland to win the PGA seemed like a smart bet.

With this newly absorbed information about how the course will play and the reliance on being a great chipper, much of that enthusiasm appears to have dampened down.

But what does Hovland himself think? Will 'home' advantage trump the emphasis on chipping?

In an extremely honest interview on Tuesday, he put both sides of the argument. Here are some of the key lines.

On how many times he's played Southern Hills

"I played it for the first time in college. We played the Big 12s out here my sophomore year, and then I never played it anytime else until they redid it (Gil Hanse's redesign in 2019).

"I probably played it five, six times since then, and mostly those rounds have been last couple months.

"One thing that's kind of been the biggest difference is the last few weeks when I have been here, they have kind of top-dressed the greens and they have been very soft just to protect the greens headed into this week.

"I think that's the thing that I have to get used to the most, just seeing the ball bounce a little bit firmer, roll off some of the greens that it didn't the last couple times I was here. I think that's kind of the biggest difference."

On whether it fits his eye

"I think it's good. I remember there being a lot more trees the first time I came here. They have added a bunch of length and they have made it a little bit more open, but at the same time you still have to drive it really well out here. So from that aspect, I feel like it fits me really well. There's no real faking it.

"But you have to have a lot of good short game shots around greens because it's all fairway around the green. It's not just like rough if you miss the greens. So I think that kind of allows you to use some creativity around the greens."

On his poor chipping stats and whether run-off areas help or hinder

"I would say probably statistically, it probably doesn't help me very much. I think statistically I'm actually a pretty decent chipper out of the rough so that would play more into my hands.

"I feel like I've really gotten better the last few weeks of chipping off of tighter lies, and obviously I would say when it's tight fairways around the greens, it lends itself to a better short game because you can maybe take on a few more shots than you wouldn't have if you don't have the best short game.

"But at the same time, you take on too much, the penalty is also there. So there's a lot of variables in that."

On his sharpness after three weeks off

"I would say I spent the last three weeks really well. I was not very happy with my game the last few weeks. Not that it was that far off, but I was just doing a few more dumb mistakes than I normally do.

"So I was pretty motivated to get to work, and the last three weeks have been really good. I feel like my game is in a way better place.

"But at the same time, there's always stuff to work on, but I feel like my game is good enough to really contend this week, and yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if I get off to a nice start and play well this week."

On whether he wants windy conditions

"Sure. I've been here the last three weeks and it's been really windy here. I feel like I've got a good advantage for that low shot. I'm very comfortable with that even into some of the greens, especially off the tee.

"The only thing with this golf course is that I mainly play Karsten Creek and the greens are usually fairly soft and the greens sit a little bit lower, not like these greens where they are all tiered up.

"So when the greens are tiered up and the wind starts blowing, you can't really hit it too low because you just won't be able to stop it on the green. So that's what really makes this course hard if the wind starts pumping. But the harder it gets, I usually like that. So I wouldn't mind that."

The pro and cons are fairly obvious when assessing his chances and punters may be happy enough to take prices around 25/1.

And if trying to put a positive spin on matters, Hovland is ranked 68th in Scrambling, another short-game metric.

When it comes to Scrambling from over 30 yards - a common scenario this week - he's as high as 18th.

However, Southern Hills has been likened to Augusta National in terms of needing a sharp short game around the greens.

At this year's Masters, where Hovland finished tied 27th, 52 players made it to the weekend. The player ranked 52nd and last in the Strokes Gained: Around The Green stats?

Yep, Hovland.

READ MORE: US PGA Championship: What can we expect from Southern Hills? Players say short game will be crucial

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