Viktor Hovland has made the leap. With his crazy win at the BMW Championship on Sunday over Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick, Hovland has now won two of the biggest PGA Tour events of the season and nearly overtaken Patrick Cantlay as the No. 4 golfer in the world.
Three months ago, the biggest win of Hovland's career was either of his two Worldwide Technology Championship at Mayakoba wins or the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic early in 2022. Now, he's downed a pair of the more menacing golf courses the PGA Tour visits (Muirfield Village and Olympia Fields) amid two of the best non-major fields constructed all year.
The shift has not been monumental or maybe even obvious, but Hovland is a different caliber player right now than he has ever been before.
This is not automatic, and trajectories are not always linear. Look no further than Matthew Wolff -- Hovland's college teammate and a fellow 2019 PGA Tour rookie -- as evidence. Wolff went from 2019 PGA Tour champion and near 2020 U.S. Open winner to such an afterthought on LIV Golf that five-time major winner and LIV teammate Brooks Koepka recently torched his work ethic and ambition.
Nobody is questioning Hovland's commitment to improvement, and he is just now bearing some of the fruit of that labor. When he famously and humorously stated, "I suck at chipping," three years ago, the implication was that he needed to get better. But again, it is not simply a presumption that elite ball-strikers will put in the time, effort and energy necessary to become as skilled as they envision. Or that, even if they do, they would be able to marry that skill to the type of mentality needed for it to carry over into competition.
Hovland has obviously been successful on both accounts.
The proof is in both the results but also the numbers that undergird the results. After four straight seasons in which he was below average around the greens -- last year he lost nearly 0.4 strokes per round to the field, which translates to nearly two shots per event in that area -- Hovland is better than Tour average this year. For somebody who is one of the truly elite hitters in the game, this is monumental.
"My short game has gotten a lot better," said Hovland after winning the BMW. "And I think I've driven it the best I've ever driven it in any other season."
This is also statistically true.
"Then my iron game has been, I would say, just OK for me compared to the other couple years," added Hovland. "But it's just putting all of that together, and then being clutch at the right times at Memorial and obviously this week and having a chance to contend in those major championships, I think I've taken a big step this year compared to other years."
Gaining 2.0 strokes per round is the holy grail of professional golf. That annual club is tiny ... three, four, five, six people tops. Hovland is in that circle this year alongside Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
Sometimes we conflate being a top 20-type player in the world with being a top five player in the world. The reality is that the 20th-best player this year (Cameron Young) is closer to being ranked 65th (Ryan Fox) than he is to playing like Hovland.
The mountain you have to climb from 20 to the top five range is more daunting and its ascent more impressive than we probably presume or convey.
The other part of Hovland's game that does not get enough credit is how he has labored to become a better decision maker. The chatter inside golf circles is that once Hovland began not ripping it at every single flag, he was going to be a problem. (Update: He's a problem.)
"I think it's one of the easiest things if you can think better and make better decisions, you can improve your score without necessarily getting better skill set-wise or physically," said Hovland. "That's one of the things that I've done really well this year."
This is true on two fronts. Hovland has been open about how much more conservatively he's been playing on approach shots, but on Sunday, he discussed how important it is to not try and win the tournament on ever hole.
"That's something that [coach] Joe [Mayo] and I have talked to each other a lot about is that just because you're seven shots [down] -- with the weekend to go, doesn't mean you're out of it. Just got to make good decisions, always just plug along, and if you're right there, you might just snatch it and win."
He told CBS Sports' Amanda Renner something similar shortly after his victory. Hovland mentioned staying in the moment on each shot and fully committing instead of thinking about all the holes he would need to birdie to get to the winner's circle.
So yes, Hovland has made a leap that most players never even have a look at much less are able to make themselves. The physical gifts he developed early in his career took him up to the ledge, and he built the bridge as he crossed it.
Though his career success is not guaranteed, the path he took to his present game at is sustainable. He's clearly neither scared of the work necessary nor the moment presented, which is a scary combination when projecting his career forward. Now, it would be more surprising if Hovland significantly dropped off than if he kept progressing.