Norwegian woods: Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura take the lead of the Zurich Classic with the best ball 62

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AVONDALE, La. – Growing up in Norway and as teammates at Oklahoma State University, Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura believe they have played hundreds of tricks together. How about in a team of two?

“Still a lot,” Ventura said.

This natural chemistry worked wonders Thursday as they returned home with nine birdies on their last 12 holes at TPC Louisiana to post a best ball score of 10 under 132 in the first round of the New Zurich Classic. -Orléans.

“Overall the mentality is that we know each other pretty well and are comfortable with each other, so it was going to be a fun day no matter what,” Hovland said. “Obviously we played well today, but it’s always fun playing together, and we can’t do that very often in a particular tournament. It certainly brings back memories for the Norwegian national teams and college golf, of course.

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Ventura said he was 13 and Hovland 11 when they first met in Norway and became teammates on the country’s national golf team. Donnie Darr, who later became an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, was coaching at Ohio State and was running out of scholarships to offer Ventura, so he informed Oklahoma State men’s coach Allan Bratton that there was a junior golfer from Norway he should check out. That was enough to convince Bratton to travel to see Ventura compete in the European Boys’ Team Championship in Scotland. He ended up getting a two-for-one deal after finding out about Hovland.

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“I happened to play a singles match right behind him,” said Hovland, “and that’s kind of when Coach Bratton got to know the Norwegian squad, and yes , we just started a good relationship. “

Bratton set a future prospect at Hovland and signed him for a scholarship two years later. He would win the 2018 US Amateur at Pebble Beach and has already won two PGA Tour titles while placing 15th in the world. Ventura has fallen a bit behind, scoring two wins on the Korn Ferry Tour in 11 starts, but remains winless on the PGA Tour and currently ranks No. 248 in the world. Hovland understands how difficult it is to win at the highest level and is convinced that Ventura’s time will come.

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“From what I’ve seen the last two days in Kris’s game, I was really impressed. I mean, I know he can. He has a lot of talent, ”he said. “I think it’s just to be more comfortable here and to see more of what he’s been up to today, just to have that confidence and get things done, it won’t be too long, I do not think.

On a blustery opening day, Ventura and Hovland got off to a poor start with just one birdie in their first six holes in the best ball format. Then the birdies started to fall in clusters.

“Kris decided to heat up his putter,” Hovland said. “It really helped.”

Most of their birds came from 10 feet indoors, but Ventura drained the bombs at No. 15 and 16, 36 feet and 20 feet respectively.

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These old friends confirmed that they were conversing in their native language between the ropes and Hovland noted that during a college tournament, Ventura, who was born in Mexico, his father’s homeland, but raised in Norway, the her mother’s homeland, alternated between three languages ​​- Norwegian, English and Spanish – writing her notes in her yardage book, using a different language at each hole.

“I can’t imagine what’s going on in his head,” Hovland said.

It’s too early for Ventura to start thinking about winning their first PGA Tour title, but a birdie at the last by Hovland took the team to double digits below par and a one-stroke lead. on a handful of pursuers, including Billy Horschel and Sam. Burns. For now, they’re just enjoying the option of adding to their total number of games played together.

“We don’t play together very often, so it’s definitely a treat,” Hovland said.