Ludvig Åberg leaps from PGA TOUR U to Ryder Cup in Rome
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Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
Luke Donald didn’t need to use words to deliver his message on Detroit Golf Club’s first tee.
He was set to play the opening two rounds of the Rocket Mortgage Classic alongside a player who’d been competing in college just a month earlier, but Donald wanted to make it clear that there are no coincidences when it comes to Ryder Cup captains and their pairings in the weeks leading up to the intercontinental competition.
Donald was already considering Ludvig Åberg for the 12-man team that would face the United States in Rome at the end of September. That’s why Donald intentionally turned his staff bag toward Åberg, revealing the Ryder Cup logo stitched beneath Donald’s name.
“It wasn’t too subtle,” recalled Greg Sands, Åberg's college coach at Texas Tech. “(Donald) turned his bag toward him just to say, ‘Hey big boy, what can you do?’”
Åberg answered the challenge, shooting 63 that day with an impressive display of his strongest asset, his driver. He hit every fairway while averaging more than 325 yards per tee shot. Åberg hit 17 of 18 greens that day, as well.
Ludvig Aberg’s Round 1 highlights from Rocket Mortgage
A player just months out of amateur golf would often be a controversial selection for a Ryder Cup team. Rare is the player with the skill set, let alone the comportment, to handle all that the Ryder Cup has to offer. But Åberg was an obvious addition to Donald’s team when the picks were announced Sept. 4.
“I really do have a lot of faith in Ludvig,” said Donald, who called Åberg a “generational player.”
Ludvig Aberg: Revealed
He is the first player to compete in a Ryder Cup without first competing in a major championship, according to Justin Ray of 21st Group.
“If he wasn’t going to play this one, he’s going to play the next eight Ryder Cups,” Donald added. “That’s how good I think he is.”
Åberg, who earned PGA TOUR status as the No. 1 player in PGA TOUR U’s Class of 2023, competed admirably during his first two months as a pro. He missed the cut in just one of his seven TOUR starts after turning pro, and his four top-25s included a fourth-place finish at the John Deere Classic in July.
Then he aced another audition in Europe.
After the conclusion of the PGA TOUR’s Regular Season, Åberg crossed the Atlantic to play in several DP World Tour events and give Donald an even larger sample to analyze.
Åberg finished tied for fourth in the D+D Real Czech Masters before winning the Omega European Masters in early September. He birdied four of the final five holes to beat Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open champion and a top-10 player in the world. The victory came in Åberg's ninth start as a pro, and just hours before Donald announced his six captain’s picks.
“Once I get on the golf course, it’s still golf, and that’s what I’ve been doing for such a long time,” Åberg said after being selected to the team. “It’s what I feel the most comfortable doing.”
A year ago this week, Åberg was competing alongside his Red Raiders teammates in the Inverness Intercollegiate in Toledo, Ohio. Now Åberg is on the same roster as Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland.
The Ryder Cup is the culmination of a rapid rise – Åberg is already ranked 80th in the world after starting the year outside the top 3,000 – that was made possible by the unprecedented benefits offered by PGA TOUR University. He was the first player to earn full PGA TOUR status by finishing atop the PGA TOUR University ranking. That gave him access to all open, full-field events after the NCAA Championship.
Åberg's amateur career included 28 weeks atop the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Since the ranking debuted in 2007, Rahm is the only European to spend more time at No. 1. Aberg also joined Rahm as the only two-time winners of the Ben Hogan Award, given to the top player in collegiate and amateur golf.
It was while Aberg was still an amateur that Donald first learned about the intriguing prospect out of Sweden. As a reward for sitting atop the PGA TOUR University Ranking after college golf’s fall season, Åberg was given a sponsor exemption into the DP World Tour’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January. He was paired alongside Edoardo Molinari, one of Donald’s vice captains, and shot a first-round 65 to share the 18-hole lead.
The hype around Åberg has been so intense that during Europe’s pre-Ryder Cup practice session, even McIlroy admitted that he was excited to get his first look at the Swede’s game.
McIlroy approached Åberg on the first tee and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.”
Åberg and Hovland went on to beat McIlroy and Fleetwood in their match that day.
Åberg has already established himself as one of the best drivers in the game, a skill that will come in especially handy during this week’s team sessions. The rough is expected to be thick at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, so a player who can consistently drive it long and straight is an asset in any format.
Åberg would rank second on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee this season (+0.921 per round) – sandwiched between Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy – if he had enough rounds to qualify for the statistical rankings. Åberg is the only player who’s averaged at least 315 yards off the tee and hit at least 60% of his fairways this season (among players with at least 25 rounds played).
“He’s got the ability to take over a golf course,” Sands said.
But there is another characteristic, one that the statistics cannot measure, that has contributed to Åberg's quick success as a pro.
“Whatever the distractions are, he’s able to put those in a drawer and focus on what allows him to play good golf,” Sands added.
The coach saw it during Åberg's senior season, when Åberg wasn’t affected by the PGA TOUR card he knew was awaiting if he could stay at No. 1 in the PGA TOUR University ranking.
“He not only held onto it, but he increased his lead,” Sands said. “He was able to handle that really big incentive of making the PGA TOUR and keep playing really good golf.”
Get to know: Texas Tech's Ludvig Aberg
Åberg said he likes to “keep my feet where they are,” focusing on what is in front of him instead of adding stress by thinking about the greater meaning or context of a moment. Sands quickly grew accustomed to Åberg taking a few hours to respond to texts about non-urgent matters. His Instagram page only receives infrequent updates.
The one time that Åberg was glued to his phone in college was during the final holes of tournaments. While many players try to avoid looking at leaderboards, he would continually check live scoring on the Internet because he wanted to know exactly where he stood. He wasn’t worried about potentially adding to anxiety during the final holes of a tournament.
“Being nervous doesn't necessarily need to affect how you behave and how you get around on the golf course,” he said. “I try to embrace it and try to have fun with it and play golf with a smile.”
This week will be unlike any he has encountered in his career, however, because Åberg has taken an unprecedented route to the Ryder Cup.
Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.