By Tim Liotta
Ludvig Aberg: On Fast Forward toward Major Opportunities
Don't be fooled by the low-key, nonplussed, pleasant disposition exuding from rookie professional Ludvig Aberg.
Let your guard down at your own risk because you'll overlook the traits that will determine his success at the major championship levels of the game: ambition, talent, ability to handle the brightess spotlight, confidence, and willingness to put in the extra effort.
In less than three months the former No. 1-ranked amateur and top-ranked PGA Tour University golfer has gone from matching Jon Rahm as the only repeat winner of the Ben Hogan Award - given annually to the nation's top college golfer - to being a contributing member of a winning European Ryder Cup team. It seems that - from everything this 23-year-old has accomplished so far - he has the tools to continue hitting the fast-forward button when it comes to his playing career.
Aberg's ambition was on display when he arrived this week at the PGA Tour's Sanderson Farms Championship, just days after celebrating Europe's Ryder Cup victory. Much was made of Aberg's decision to keep his commitment to play in the tournament in Jackson, MS, so soon after competing in one of the game's most prestigious events in Rome, Italy, but it had less to do with good will than this Swedish phenom maintaining his focus on what he hopes to accomplish in the professional game.
"I know it's good for me. Almost a little selfishly I knew I wanted to play," Aberg said the day before the tournament. "For me to get all these experiences on different golf courses, different tournaments, play as much as I can.
"I'd like to still think I'm young and I can handle it."
Since June when he turned professional, in his first six PGA tournaments on American soil, Aberg posted a T4 at the John Deere, a T14 at Wyndham, and two more top-25s. He missed only one cut - by one shot, incidentally - came overseas in a completely different environment - on a links course at the Genesis Scottish Open.
In five of his first seven PGA Tour events, the 6-foot-3 Aberg ranked in the top three in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee.
"He's obviously an amazing driver of the golf ball," said European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald. "I'm sure you've already seen the stat through how many rounds he's played in professional events. He would rank No. 1 ahead of Rory, No. 3 would be Scottie Scheffler. So that's pretty high-caliber players."
That talent was what jumped off the digital page for Justin Rose, 2013 U.S. Open champion, 2016 Olympic gold medalist, and fellow European Ryder Cupper.
"It became easy to follow him, I suppose, and I'm not going to lie," said Rose at a Ryder Cup press conference.
"He's one of the those players that has a very impressive game to the point where in the evening sometimes, if you haven't watched any golf coverage, he's the kind of name that you click on and go to his shot tracker, and you go, oh, my God, he hit it 340 yards down the middle of that fairway and flicked a wedge in.
"You follow him with a bit more curiosity because he tends to have a couple weapons that are not at necessarily everybody's disposal."
Once Aberg was mentioned as a potential Ryder Cup selection - this despite having never played in a major - presented this newly minted pro the opportunity to prove his ability to put up results with the golf world questioning his professional resume.
Donald, a former No. 1 in the World Rankings as a player, said he and his vice-captains began tracking Aberg's progress at the beginning of 2023, knowing his plan to turn pro in June. It was Aberg's performance in Europe the two weeks prior to Donald's deadline for his selections - a T4 at the D+D Real Czech Masters followed by a victory Omega European Masters - that clinched Aberg becoming one of six Captain's picks.
"Really, I needed to see him perform these last two weeks," Donald said when announcing his selections for the European team. "It certainly wasn't a guarantee before that.
"And you know, his commitment to come over, finishing fifth at Czech and then obviously what he did yesterday (win the European Masters) and throughout the whole week in Crans, birdieing his last four, just kind of solidified my mind, really."
In the BMW PGA Championship after his Ryder Cup selection, Aberg took a two-shot lead into the final round before struggling to a 4-over-par 76 and a T-10 finish, this after playing the first eleven rounds in three tournaments across three European countries in 52-under-par.
Back in June, Aberg was paired with Donald at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
"I was so impressed when I played with him in Detroit," said Donald. "He was a cool 9-under through 16 holes like it was nothing. He just went about his business. He was calm, collected. He made everything look very simple.
"He plays with good speed. Doesn't overcomplicate it. Him and his caddie, Jax, seem to have a good thing going and he hits a lot of quality shots."
Prior to turning professional, Aberg was a three-time All American at Texas Tech, setting school records for the lowest single-season scoring average, most wins in a season (4), most wins in his career (8). He was the first player to win the Big 12 Conference championship two years in a row, setting a scoring mark of 15-under-par en route to an eight-shot victory in April. He was the only NCAA Division I golfer to win both his conference and regional championship.
"I would say that I’m pretty good at staying in the moment, staying in the present and not get too high up, not get too far low and not get too far ahead of myself, too," Aberg said prior to the Ryder Cup. "One of the reasons why I was able to stand out in college in amateur golf is that I was able to have my emotions intact.”
Tomas Setterhill, the head pro at Eslov Golf Club in southern Sweden, has worked with Aberg since he was nine years old, and he said in an Associated Press report that he realized pretty quickly there was something different about Ludvig.
“He didn’t get down on himself,” Setterhill said in an Associated Press report. “You see many juniors who, when they make a bogey or double bogey, they get angry. But Ludvig just kept playing.”
“We’ve been talking about being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation," Setterhill told the AP. "It’s something we work really hard on. I’m so impressed how he handles all these new tasks and environments all the time ... He seems to just thrive when you shine the light on him.”
As only the second player ever selected to Ryder Cup in his first year as a professional - the other was Sergio Garcia - Aberg no doubt thrived during his week sharing the European team room with the likes of Rahm, Rose and Rory McIlroy, using the week to watch them go about their business.
"You know, I feel like they're very good at handling their own game, managing their own game," Aberg said. "It doesn't matter if -- it doesn't matter what the situation is. They know what it takes, and they know their own capabilities, and then just trying to manage your way around the golf course. It sounds very cheesy to say, but they really are masters of it, and that's what I'm trying to strive towards, and that's what I try to get to.
"I still feel like I have a long ways to go, but for me to kind of get those experiences quite early is great for me."
When asked his most memorable Ryder Cup moment, however, Aberg's competitive side emerged.
"I think there will be a lot of things that I'll remember," he said. "Obviously everyone talks about that first tee and the nerves and the excitement and anticipation that comes with it. It was very true. I was shaking. I was nervous. I was feeling all these things. However much you talk about it, you can't really prepare for it until -- you can't really simulate it. For me to experience that was really cool.
"But I do think me and Viktor's win on - that would be Saturday morning, was quite memorable."
Aberg and Viktor Hovland beat Scottie Scheffler, the current No. 1 in the World Rankings, and Brooks Koepka, a five-time major champion, 9 & 7, the most one-sided 18-hole match victory in the history of the Ryder Cup. Scheffler left the match in tears.
Aberg still has plenty to play for in 2023. His Ryder Cup selection may have clinched his qualifying for the 2024 PGA Championship - he must be ranked in the Top 100 next May to earn his spot. A Top 50 ranking at the end of the year would qualify him for the Masters, and if he is ranked in the Top 60 next spring he would qualify for the U.S. Open and the Open Championship.
This past week at the Sanderson Farms Championship, Aberg played his way into a five-way playoff, ultimately losing to Luke List's birdie on the first playoff hole.
"It was a cool experience for me," said Aberge, who jumped from No. 79 in the world to No. 59. "I feel like a lot of these things that I'm doing at the moment are kind of the first time I'm doing it, so hopefully I'll be able to learn from it, and next time I'll be better off. ...
"I think playing those last couple of holes when you're in contention, when you're close to the lead or chasing down the lead, it's the most fun you'll ever have on the golf course."
The playoff experience may prove to be another check mark on Aberg's list of experiences he needs to play through.
"I still feel like I have a lot to do," Aberg said after the Ryder Cup. "You know, for me to kind of test the waters a little bit with playing in the Ryder Cup and being around those guys and play against arguably the best players in the world, so for me to have those experiences and knowing what it takes to be the best player in the world and kind of for me to create a relationship with those guys and hang out with them has been unbelievable.
"Hopefully that's something that I'll be able to use to my advantage coming into the rest of this year, and then also for the rest of my career."