The temperature in Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday reached a balmy 71 degrees with 47 percent humidity. At Colleton River Plantation Club, where the 68th U.S. Junior Championship is being conducted on the Dye Course, the mercury hit the mid-90s, with the heat index reaching triple digits for a second consecutive day.
“This is too hot for us,” said Kristoffer Reitan, one of two Norwegians in the field this week. “We’ve got towels in our bags just to stay dry. It’s kind of like playing in the rain. You’ve got to keep everything dry. It’s tough.”
Added compatriot Viktor Hovland: “This is unreal. Sweat is pouring down on me.”
Despite the oppressive conditions, both teenagers have adjusted quite nicely. Hovland, 17, posted rounds of 68-71 to finish second in stroke play, one shot behind medalist Brandon Mancheno. Reitan, 16, carded a pair of even-par 72s to easily advance to match play.
Both golfers are veterans of competition, but neither of the two has competed much in the U.S., and certainly never in this kind of heat and humidity. They each played the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird Invitational on Memorial Day weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz., but that was in drier conditions.
Last week, they were in Finland, where temperatures sat comfortably in the 70s, competing in the European Boys Team Championship. Reitan won the individual stroke-play event by two strokes, shooting 68-65. They helped Norway earn a bronze medal out of 16 teams.
This, however, is their first U.S. Junior Amateur. They automatically qualified by being inside the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ as of the June 3 deadline. Last year at The Club at Carlton Woods, compatriot Andreas Halvorsen advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Sam Horsfield, 1 down.
“We play a lot of international tournaments,” said Reitan, who also has played in the British Boys Championship twice. “This one was one of the most prestigious events in the world. That’s why we play here.”
Golf in Norway doesn’t have the same pedigree as Nordic skiing – cross country and ski jumping – where elite athletes are feted like football, baseball and basketball stars are in the U.S. Hovland said there are 30 18-hole courses and several more nine-hole layouts. Currently, one Norwegian (Espen Kofstad) competes on the European Tour, while neighboring countries Sweden and Finland have produced multiple champions, the most notable being Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson.
Of course, Suzann Pettersen has enjoyed huge success on the LPGA Tour, winning 22 worldwide events, including the 2007 LPGA Championship.
“We’re right beside them, so it’s kind of shocking we don’t have any people up there,” said Hovland of Norwegian golf.
Hovland added that Norwegian juniors have enjoyed amateur success, but it hasn’t translated to the professional game.
“That’s a good question,” said Hovland. “The [Norwegian Golf] Federation talks about that all the time. We’ve always been good on the junior side. We have lots of medals in the European Boys Team Championship. Suzann is different. She’s very determined and has been her whole life.”
Hovland and Reitan could be the next Norwegian male stars. Both plan to attend college in the U.S. – Hovland in 2016 and Reitan in 2017 – and then pursue professional careers. Doing so in Norway is tough, given the six-month golf season. Reitain said during the winter months, he’ll practice indoors hitting balls into nets.
Over Christmas break, Reitan and Hovland come to Florida to play in the South Beach Amateur. Reitan also has competed in the prestigious Doral Publix, an event that draws an international field.
This week, the two flew from Finland together. Reitan’s family came as well, while Hovland is by himself.
“We’re having a good time,” said Hovland.
Both were looking forward to match play, a format in which they have extensive experience. Reitan registered 4.5 out of a possible 6 points in last week’s European team event, where they played foursomes and singles. Hovland likes the fact he can be more aggressive in match play.
“I usually get a little tensed up [in stroke play],” said Hovland. “I don’t think about birdies. I think about not making mistakes. In match play, you just go for everything.”