Viktor Hovland. Mike Ehrmann
Viktor Hovland played like a man possessed at East Lake, capturing the Tour Championship and a whole heaping wagon-load of money. But today, we’re not concerned with golf, or prizes, or any worldly matters. Today, we have just a simple question to answer: How well did he celebrate his victory?
Clearly, this is a complex question, and not one to take lightly. When it comes to the victory moment, there is no easy analysis that can summarise the various requirements of a great post-win celebration. In order to do a more thorough investigation, the top scientists at Golf Digest (read: me, the guy who is very bad at science) have come up with…
THE C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. SCALE
As you might guess from all those periods, each letter represents an element of the celebration that we’re rating on a scale of 1-10. When all is said and done, we’ll come up with a total comprehensive score out of 110 points that will give us a clear idea of how well Hovland did in the moments after his win, and — in the future — how all future celebrations compare.
Before we begin, here’s what each letter means:
- Crowd Work: When you win, are you a man of the people?
- Elation: How much did you let loose?
- Looper Moment: That first hug/fist bump/whatever with the caddie is so important
- Emotion: You know you get MASSIVE points for tears in this one
- Body Work: Separate from elation/emotion, how good was the sheer physicality?
- Relations: Family? Friends? Agents?
- Awkwardness: Golf can be an awkward sport, we love it, and here we reward it
- Theatrics: A catch-all category for any other BIG elements of the celebration
- Interview: The victory interview. How well did they execute?
- Opponent interaction: Was there respect shown to the enemy? We love respect.
- N-tangibles: Anything — and everything — else
With thanks to our friends at the PGA Tour, you can refer to this video from Hovland’s victory as we go through the scale point by point:
Now, how did Viktor fare? Let’s dig in.
Viktor has always been a charmer — he’s got a little Arnold Palmer in him, which is why I always call him “The Norwegian Palmer” to blank stares — and you have to give him props for his quick acknowledgment of the crowd with the hat wave at 0:19. Extra points for throwing the ball to the crowd at 0:55, and then, at 1:11 and again at 1:15, he gives some love to the police who have presumably been following him around as hired security for most of the round. You might think working a golf tournament is a sweet gig for an officer whose job might ordinarily be far more dangerous, but having seen those guys up close, you’d be wrong. It’s a thankless job — you have to wear heavy clothes in extreme heat, scan for trouble constantly, and deal with lots of drunk people. True story, I once had a cop assigned to follow Bryson DeChambeau’s group in New Jersey at the last Northern Trust tell me that sometimes he thought it was easier to just be in the street. Viktor giving them respect is admirable. Then, in the interview at 2:30, he thanks the crowd for being awesome.
On the down side, the crowd interaction taken as a whole was pretty minimal, particularly for how much the crowd loves him, and you can’t help but notice that his high-five ratio as he walked down the rope line was pretty low. He’s got to hit the gym to get that ratio up.
We’re tempted to give Viktor a break here because it’s the end of a long season, he seemed tired, and he won by so many strokes that there was probably less adrenaline rush than usual. But we have to stick by the scientific rigour of the scale, and the truth is that the elation just never came. When he made the putt, he went to pick it up just like he was playing the seventh hole on Thursday. He didn’t even stop to put his hands on his head or smile. And once he has the ball, he exhales in relief and gets on with the obligations.
Starting at 0:32, this is just a masterclass. Viktor unleashes that smile — it has to be the best smile in golf, at this point — embraces Shay Knight, and even does the sort of flat palm back rub to show you that this is no casual, compulsory embrace … this is a serious hug. Knight tells him some joke, they share genuine laughter, and it lasts a full and satisfying ten seconds. You can see how much these guys like each other, and how much they’re locked in. Then, a few seconds later, they pat each other on the back one more time as Hovland gives Knight his putter. A Classic.
A little bit of a letdown. The best moments come when he hugs Knight, embraces the cops, and greets the other players. But otherwise, it’s a lot of relief, and no, we don’t get any tears. Not even close. People are asking: Does Viktor need a crying coach?
Hovland is one of the coolest-seeming guys on Tour, so you know he’s never going to get out over his skis from a physical perspective. The upside here is that, as expected, he looks cool doing basically everything. The hat tip, the bro shakes, the hugs … I mean, this guy’s hair and forehead even looks good when he takes his hat off, which is a near-impossible feat in golf. He’s not even sweating! This is Atlanta, and he’s barely got a sheen! He’s pure charm, top to bottom.
However, he’s also giving us very little to judge. No fist pump, no running, nothing. You lose points for that.
And I do want to draw your attention to the 1:42 mark of the video, and his handshake with Jay Monahan. There, Viktor comes way over the top with his arm. Way, way over the top. His elbow is up by his ear! It may be partially because he had to get that arm over the trophy, to be fair. But it’s just such a high handshake. I don’t know what to think about it.
No family or friends on the scene, so we have to settle for his agent, Sam MacNaughton, at 1:28, and then his buddy Matt Fitzpatrick a second later, who waited for him at scoring. Nice, but all pretty standard and quick.
I’m sad to say that Viktor Hovland is perhaps the least awkward human being on the PGA Tour. Everything he does looks so smooth, and this is no exception. I’m not giving him a straight zero, because of that handshake with Monahan, but beyond that, this is one cool customer. He loses serious points here.
The idea here is that anything he says or does that can’t fit into the other categories. Here, everything is pretty standard. He doesn’t jump into any lakes, throw his hat, or anything like that. With such a comfortable win, this was always going to be tough, but we’ll give him a few points for chucking the ball into the crowd. But everything else? Pretty tame, right up to the end of the video when he holds the trophy up to the crowd in a very classy, understated way.
The chat with Amanda Balionis starts at 1:48, and as she reads off his achievements, he keeps a nice, self-effacing smile that makes you like him more despite the fact that he’s better at this one thing than any of us will be at anything. Then he makes the classy gesture of thanking the crowd, takes us through the momentum of his round — he had to change his game plan when Xander made a charge — and the whole thing is pretty fluent. It’s not very exciting, and he doesn’t try to be funny or meaningful, but he keeps it very classy. Standard, and maybe just slightly closed off, but within the standard realm, there’s a quiet charisma there.
Starting at 0:20, you can see that Viktor has perfected what I think of as the patented Rafa Nadal “I’m so sorry I beat you” act. (I’m a huge Rafa guy, so this is a major compliment.) What this entails is a kind of shoulder shrug, a tilt of the head, and tightening of the lips with maybe a slight twist of the mouth — a look of something close to regret that communicates the idea that “I got this one, but we really battled out there, and while I’m not exactly sorry for you, I empathise.” It’s quite a tightrope to walk, but with Xander Schauffele and his caddie Austin Kaiser, Viktor is absolutely perfect. He lets Xander do most of the talking, he smiles at his joke, pats him on the shoulder, and generally seems the exact right amount of conciliatory without being condescending. Ditto for Kaiser, and he also has the class to keep it short. Nobody wants to talk for very long after they’ve lost.
If you love respect for the opponent, this was the highlight of Viktor’s celebration. I doubt we’ll see anyone do it better.
The chest pat Hovland gives Kaiser is a classic under-used move … Viktor’s laugh is a gem, between smile and laugh he’s a true two-tool happiness guy … credit for how he shows the crowd the ball for a moment before the underarm windmill toss … if you’re the one guy he high-fives on his walk to the scoring tent, you must be feeling like a million bucks … you have to respect the way he nods along to Balionis when she’s asking the first question at 1:55, but changes emotional registers with the nod itself and the smile, a classic pro’s move … speaking of pro moves, nice job by him getting the Ping hat back on at 1:13, knowing the cameras are still rolling.
Overall Score: 55.5
Final analysis: This is not going to go down as one of the all-time great celebrations, clearly, but Viktor gets a ton of credit for his caddie moment and his interaction with Xander, tremendous efforts that lifted his total score just barely over the 50 per cent mark and took this celebration from “dud” to “average.” Considering the lack of drama in the endgame, you have to respect the effort to salvage this one. And since this is the first time we’ve ever done this, he’s the clubhouse leader. That’s not nothing.