By Andrew Both
GREENSBORO, N.C. (Reuters) – Norwegian Viktor Hovland’s rocket-like start to his professional career has him dreaming of next year’s Ryder Cup, though first he has to become a member of the European Tour.
Hovland, last year’s U.S. amateur champion, turned pro after finishing equal 12th at the U.S. Open in June, and has instantly adjusted to the pay-for-play ranks.
A fourth place at the Wyndham Championship here on Sunday was his best result to date, after he had finished inside the top 16 in his previous three events.
It was not quite enough to earn PGA Tour membership for next year, so Hovland will have to go to the three-event qualifying series on the feeder tour that starts in a fortnight.
Hovland, 21, went to university at Oklahoma State and plans to focus his career in the United States, but that does not mean he is ready to give up his European roots.
To be eligible for the Ryder Cup team, however, he must first become a European Tour member, and is not quite sure how he will go about that task, given that he does not plan to go to the European Tour qualifying school.
“My management team has been talking about it (membership) a little but I don’t know what I have to do to be a member,” he told Reuters at Sedgefield Country Club.
“I’m just trying to have a place to play at first and then when that becomes more likely we’ll talk about it.
“I just turned pro a month-and-a-half ago and we’re already talking about the Ryder Cup. That’s kind of surreal but first I just need to stick to each week and take it from there.”
Hovland was the best-placed amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open this year, and on his current trajectory is likely to be a mainstay of the European Ryder Cup team for many years to come, assuming he finds a way to become eligible.
One way to become a European Tour member would be to win a World Golf Championships event, a major championship or a regular European Tour event.
A more likely path would be to accept invitations to regular tournaments and compile enough money in a handful of events to qualify.
But first things first.
He said his performance at the Wyndham Championship, where he finished at 19-under 261, three strokes behind winner J.T. Poston, gave him confidence he can earn full exemption for next year.
“I feel like I’ve been playing better and better every week,” he said.
“There are three (qualifying) tournaments and I know that if I just play my game I should make it through.”
Hovland did not turn pro until June, because he wanted to play the U.S. Open at the same Pebble Beach course where he won the 2018 U.S. amateur.
On Monday, the U.S. Golf Association announced that from now on the amateur champion will remain exempt for the following year’s Open even if he turns pro in the meantime.
That comes too late to help Hovland, however.
Had he relinquished his amateur status after the Masters in April, instead of waiting two more months, he almost certainly would have earned enough money to have locked up his tour card for next season.
Europe will defend their Ryder Cup crown in the biennial event against the U.S. at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin next September.
“That’s definitely not something that I want to pass up on,” Hovland said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Christian Radnedge)