To Justin Rose, he is a “European stud.” To Rory McIlroy, he is a generational driver of the golf ball. To Luke Donald, he has the potential to be one of golf’s superstars, capable of playing in the next eight Ryder Cups.
Step forward, Ludvig Åberg. The 23-year-old Swede has set more tongues wagging than ABBA and created a sensation in European golf circles these past eight days. In that time, in only his ninth tournament as a professional, he birdied four of his last five holes to snatch victory in the Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, the last qualifying event for the forthcoming Ryder Cup. Less than 24 hours later, Åberg was named in the European team, thus becoming the first player to compete in the Ryder Cup without ever having played in a major championship and only the second, after Sergio García, to gain a place in the biennial competition in the same year in which he was an amateur.
Amidst all the excited chatter about the prodigy, there came the occasional doubt.
“Isn’t it a bit soon?” the doubters said.
“Can he really be ready?” they added.
Golf cognoscenti know otherwise, and not one has expressed any doubts as to Åberg’s qualifications.
“He’s ready,” said Paul McGinley, the winning European captain at the 2014 Ryder Cup. “Statistics proved this guy was good, but then he was put under pressure and he proved he was ready again.”
Peter McEvoy, the wise and celebrated former amateur star and captain of two winning Walker Cup teams, noted how the standard of amateur golf is closing on the professional game, citing the play of many of the competitors in the recent Walker Cup at St Andrews.
“So many amateurs these days are ready to compete at the highest level almost as soon as they turn pro,” McEvoy said. “There is not much risk with Ludvig. He is in the form of his life and hasn’t had the confidence knocked out of him yet.”
“I played with him in Detroit in July (in the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic) and I was blown away by him,” said Luke Donald, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. “I challenged him to come over to Europe and play a couple of weeks. He finished fourth in the Czech Masters, and obviously we know what he did to win in Switzerland. It was like a walk in the park for him, and for someone who is so inexperienced, it is just so impressive. He is going to be around for a long time and do amazing things.”
McEvoy had several tenets when he captained teams, albeit amateur ones. And he is not the first to point out that captaining teams is not a prerogative of professionals. Forced to choose between a swinger and a scrapper, he always went for the scrapper.
“There is nothing worse than playing someone who repeatedly gets up and down,” McEvoy said. “Any American playing Ludvig is not going to enjoy it because of his ability.”
“Ludvig is strong in all facets of the game, and that includes his temperament and his demeanour,” said a keen observer of the PGA Tour who has watched the Swede compete for two years. “There is not anything missing in his game. He has a good swing. His bad shots are not far offline, and his short game is strong. Nothing fazes him, and there aren’t many of whom that can be said.”
“That he played almost 75 percent of his professional career with the pressure of trying to make a Ryder Cup team immediately is quite impressive, and to then win on the final day made it (his selection) a bit of a no-brainer for the captain.”
As evidence of this, look at how well Åberg played when he knew he was under Donald’s microscope. Other candidates for the Europe team were subjected to the same treatment and didn’t come up to standard. Åberg did.
“Ludvig showed the second of his weapons in this time,” said Rose, who will be a teammate of Åberg’s in Rome. “That he played almost 75 percent of his professional career with the pressure of trying to make a Ryder Cup team immediately is quite impressive, and to then win on the final day made it (his selection) a bit of a no-brainer for the captain.”
Asked whether he was ready for the Ryder Cup and whether he had any fear or trepidation going into it, Åberg replied in that calm and quiet way of his.
“I don’t think ‘fear’ is the right word,” he said. “I think as a competitor these are the events you want to be part of. You want to have that shot, that putt, to get a point or win a match. I’ve been fortunate to be part of these team events in the amateur game, which is on a completely different level, I know, and I understand. I’m super-excited, and absolutely I’m up for the challenge.
“I would say that I’m pretty good at staying in the present,” Åberg continued. “I tend not to get too low and not to get too far ahead of myself. I think that is why I was able to have my emotions intact. I think that’s one of the reasons why I was able to stand out in college and amateur golf.
“I think there has been a lot of talk and a lot of noise these past couple of months, and I’ve been able to play pretty good golf during that period of time. I view winning a golf tournament when I knew I needed to win it to get into the Ryder Cup as a receipt of the good stuff I have been doing.”
Peter Hanson, the Swede who was in Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup teams of 2010 and 2012, has known of his young prodigious countryman for some years and now is a coach of his.
“I met him two years ago when he was an amateur in the Swedish national team,” Hanson said. “The past 1½ years I have been helping him, mentoring him not only with his golf but with many other issues as well.
“He is funny – not a guy who pulls jokes out of a hat, but he transmits huge energy. He is really calm, down-to-earth, has a very relaxed body language and a lovely smile.
“Most striking is his patience,” Hanson said. “He has a natural ability to stay calm. It is not God-given, but he has been working on it at high school and at university (at Texas Tech). Everyone who has seen him strike a ball notes that he has that ‘wow’ factor. Let me put it this way: Once you have seen him drive for the first time, you don't forget it.
“We have 2½ weeks to get him comfortable in a new arena. We did it when he turned pro. That was a new arena, and I said he should try and keep everything the same. Same clubs, etc. Now he is taking the next step. We will be together for the next three weeks. I will see him at Wentworth next week (at the BMW PGA Championship), and from then on, he and I will be practising and preparing hard for the Ryder Cup. I will see him every night until after the Ryder Cup.”
Are we going to give this young Swede a nickname? It is not always an advantage.
Are we going to give this young Swede a nickname? It is not always an advantage. Gary Player’s “The Black Knight” never really caught on. When Greg Norman burst onto the scene, thoughtful subeditors at newspapers on Fleet Street, mindful of his Australian beach-boy appearance, all blond hair and white teeth, labelled him “The Great White Shark.” The caddies, however, who saw Norman at close hand, called him “The Great White Fish Finger.”
Jack Nicklaus was “The Golden Bear” soon after he set the world of golf alight in the 1950s and 1960s, rising to sit alongside Arnold Palmer (“The King”) and then deposing him. He was still “The Golden Bear” when he won his 18th major championship, the 1986 Masters. How appropriate that Nicklaus, unquestionably one of the greatest ever to have played the game, is the rare player whose nickname has stood the test of time. Demeaning his reputation – and his nickname – would be tantamount to defacing the face of Jesus Christ.
In a few days Europe’s anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” his Ninth Symphony, will ring out at the opening ceremony of the Ryder Cup in Rome. Forget for a moment that Beethoven’s first name is spelled with the letter “w” and Åberg’s with a “v.” Consider instead that at Marco Simone on September 29, we will be hailing not Ludwig van Beethoven, the deaf genius of a composer, but the youthful promise of Ludvig Åberg, prince of Sweden.
Top: Åberg has ascended in historical fashion to land a spot on the European Ryder Cup team.
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