How Viktor Hovland Transformed His Short Game: The 6 training tips you can copy!

Viktor Hovland holding a golf trophypic credit: PGA Media Hub, via Getty images

Introduction: A Struggle with the Wedge

Once heralded as the next big thing on the professional golf circuit, Viktor Hovland quickly made a name for himself as a long hitter, nailing fairways and greens like a veteran. However, golfers and critics alike began to notice a glaring hole in his skill set: his short game.

Jeff Smith, his short-game coach, and former professional poker player, remarked, “He’s got this huge arsenal of shots. He’s the most versatile ball-striker I’ve ever seen. But his chipping was [lacking].” This became particularly noticeable when he was within 40 yards of the green. Often, these should-have-been straightforward shots ended up as the Achilles heel, costing him significant placements in tournaments.

Hovland himself was far from ignorant about this gap in his game. In a brutally honest admission, he said, “I suck at chipping.” It was clear that his performance around the greens wasn’t up to the level of the rest of his golf game. For a young golfer with such an otherwise impressive skill set, this was a situation begging for a resolution.

His early results on the Tour reflected these struggles. For all the buzz he generated with his long game, the stats painted a bleak picture of his short game. According to PGA Tour statistics, Hovland ranked 185th in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green in his early years on the tour. That’s a telling number, especially when most of the competition fared significantly better in this aspect.

It wasn’t just affecting his stats; it was affecting his overall performance in tournaments. When chips were down—literally—Hovland found himself losing vital strokes, which, in turn, hampered his chances of clinching titles. As promising as his career looked, this was a hurdle he had to overcome.

But the story doesn’t end in despair. Quite the opposite. Viktor Hovland has since made an extraordinary turnaround, making his weak point one of his strong suits. And the best part? The methods he employed could help amateur golfers as well.

A Remarkable Transformation in the Hovland Short Game

The first sign that things were changing for Hovland came when his ranking in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green began to rise. He made a leap to 59th position, a massive jump that immediately signalled improvement. It wasn’t mere fluke or temporary form; it was a systematic adjustment that had started to pay off.

Working closely with his coach Jeff Smith, Hovland began re-evaluating his approach to chipping. Smith pointed out, “The first thing we did was break down the fundamentals.” They worked on grip, setup, and most importantly, the loft. The focus was not just on practising more but practising better. Technique took precedence over brute force or intuition. As you can see from the below video though, Hovland’s gym routine is fairly fun on!

And the hard work bore fruit—consistently. Hovland started finishing rounds under par more frequently, pulling off incredible recoveries that he would have struggled with in the past. The commentators started to talk about his ‘improved chipping’ rather than his ‘chipping woes.’ Even his confidence around the greens seemed to skyrocket, allowing him to play a more rounded game.

The ultimate vindication came in the form of tournament successes. Where once his short game was the stumbling block preventing him from contending for titles, it became a reliable weapon in his arsenal. As recent as 2023, he won the 2023 Tour Championship at East Lake to claim the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup for the first time in his career, a testament to how far he had come.

What did Hovland do that triggered such a dramatic improvement? Here are some tips inspired by his journey.

Fitted Golf Clubs help you hit further
Short game practice is vital for golf

Elevate Your Short Game: Training Tips Inspired by Viktor Hovland

Focus on the Short Game Fundamentals

The importance of getting the fundamentals right cannot be overstated. When Hovland’s short game was under scrutiny, his coach Jeff Smith pinpointed the basics as the first thing to correct. Your grip, stance, and posture form the foundation of any good golf shot, but they are especially vital when you’re near the green. Incorrect fundamentals can lead to inconsistent contact with the ball, making it difficult to predict where your chip will end up.

Start by assessing your grip. Are your hands too tight or too loose? Are you holding the club in your fingers or in your palms? These nuances can significantly affect your ability to control the clubhead. Practise your grip until it feels second nature, so you don’t have to think about it during play.

Your stance and posture, too, can dramatically affect the quality of your shot. How far apart are your feet? Is your weight balanced? Are you hunched over the ball or standing too upright? Once you have a good understanding of these basic elements, you can practise them until they become muscle memory. This lays the foundation for everything else you’ll do around the green.

Adjust Club Loft and Ball Spin

Understanding the loft of the club is vital for mastering the short game. According to Golf Digest, creating optimal spin loft—a balance between the angle of attack and dynamic loft—requires some careful geometry. Hovland and his coach spent time honing this, focusing on how to adjust the shaft lean to influence the loft. Too much loft and the ball pops up too high with little forward roll; too little and the ball stays low but rolls out too much.

Experimentation is key here. Spend time at the practice green adjusting your wrist hinge and the amount you lean the club shaft forward or backward. This will allow you to hit different types of chip shots, such as the low runner or the high flop, with greater skill.

Understanding spin can also significantly improve your short game. The right amount of backspin will give you better control, allowing the ball to stop quickly after it lands. Spin is influenced by your clubhead speed, the club’s grooves, and your angle of attack. Knowing how to manipulate these factors will provide you with more options when you’re close to the green, a crucial part of Hovland’s own improvement.

Drill Consistently and Practice Constantly

The key to mastering anything is consistent and deliberate practice, and the short game in golf is no different. Viktor Hovland’s leap in the Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green stats didn’t happen by accident; it was the result of methodical and focused practice. Schedule regular sessions where you work solely on your short game. During these sessions, practise your newly honed fundamentals and experiment with different loft and spin settings.

But don’t just mindlessly chip balls onto the green; have a plan. Create specific drills that simulate the kinds of shots you struggle with or encounter frequently. Measure your success rate to track your progress. Keep adjusting the difficulty of the drills to continually challenge yourself.

Finally, don’t practise just for the sake of it. Make every session count by having a specific objective in mind. Whether it’s mastering a particular type of shot or improving your accuracy within a certain range, focused practice is far more effective than generic, aimless chipping.

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Use Various Clubs – Wedges and Irons

Jeff Smith praised Viktor Hovland for his versatile ball-striking, and you can apply the same principle to your short game. Most amateur golfers default to using only one or two clubs when they are within chipping distance of the green. However, different situations often call for different clubs, from a sand wedge for a high, soft shot to a 7- or 8-iron for a low-running chip.

Begin by experimenting with a variety of clubs during your practice sessions. You’ll soon find that the more lofted clubs are excellent for getting the ball high quickly, especially useful when you have to clear a bunker or other obstacle. On the other hand, less lofted clubs like your 7- or 8-iron can be great for those low-running chips that you want to get rolling like a putt as soon as they hit the green.

By using different clubs in practice, you’ll build a more versatile short game that allows you to tackle a variety of situations with confidence. This means that when you find yourself in an awkward spot on the course, you’ll have the skills to select the appropriate club and execute the required shot effectively, much like Hovland.

Visualise the Shot You Want To Happen

Visualization is a powerful tool in golf. Before executing any shot, especially a chip or a pitch, take a moment to visualize exactly how you want the ball to behave. See it in your mind’s eye: the trajectory it will follow, where it will land on the green, and how it will roll towards the hole. Hovland’s improved short game isn’t just about physical adjustments; his mental approach plays a huge role as well.

Begin by standing behind the ball and selecting a landing spot on the green where you want the ball to initially touch down. Then, imagine the path the ball will take to reach that spot. This exercise will help you choose the right club and execute the right type of swing for the situation.

Don’t rush this process. Good visualization takes time and practise but can yield immense benefits. It can boost your confidence and improve your focus, both crucial aspects for executing a great shot. Over time, you’ll find that your ability to visualize shots will grow stronger, and so will your performance around the green.

Build Confidence Through Success

There’s no shortcut to building confidence; it comes from experiencing success in your endeavours. To that end, start small. Begin your path to a better short game by mastering simpler, less intimidating shots before moving on to more challenging ones. As Jeff Smith mentioned about Viktor Hovland’s transformation, “The first thing we did was break down the fundamentals.” Only after mastering these should you move on to trickier shots.

Track your progress diligently. Keep note of the percentage of successful shots you make from various distances and lies during your practice sessions. As these numbers improve, you’ll naturally feel more confident in your abilities, just like Hovland did as he saw his stats improve.

Confidence has a sort of snowball effect. As you become more confident in your short game, that confidence will carry over into other aspects of your play. Your drives will become more accurate, your putts more true, and your overall game more rounded. Viktor Hovland’s improved short game didn’t just make him better around the greens; it made him a better golfer overall. The same can happen for you.

Viktor Hovland’s journey from a struggling short game to becoming a master around the greens serves as an inspiration for golfers at all levels. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an aspiring pro, implementing these tips into your own game could mark the beginning of your own short-game renaissance. Happy golfing!