Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Oh my, Åberg: Ludvig offers glimpse of the future in brilliant RSM win

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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The next few years in professional golf promise to be a boon for the pronunciation industry, thanks to Ludvig Åberg (pronounced LOOD-vig OH-behr).

Åberg, who was playing just his 11th PGA Tour event as a member at the fall-ending RSM Classic, is from Lubbock, Texas, via Eslöv, Sweden (pronounced ES-lov) and has been on an accelerated learning curve since he exited Texas Tech for the professional ranks in May.

He finished tied for fourth in his fourth start as a pro at the John Deere Classic, won his ninth start at the European Masters and on Sunday at idyllic Sea Island (Ga.) Resort, he lapped defending champion Adam Svensson (pronounced SVEN-sin) by 10 shots and he was four clear of past champion and this year’s runner-up, Mackenzie Hughes.

As impressive as Åberg was at last month’s Ryder Cup, where he teamed three times with fellow phenom Viktor Hovland on his way to a 2-2-0 record for the winning side, his play over the final two days at the RSM Classic is the stuff of statements.

The 24-year-old made just one bogey all week – at No. 12 Sunday that ended a run of 85 consecutive bogey-free holes, dating to his last start at the World Wide Technology Championship – and closed with rounds of 64-61-61 to set a new Tour record for lowest 54-hole score. He also tied the Tour’s 72-hole scoring mark and shattered the tournament scoring record by seven strokes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever shot back-to-back 61s, to be fair. So that’s obviously something that I’ll probably never ever going to do again,” said Åberg, who has a true gift for understatement.

While there’s always a danger of overstating Åberg’s maiden Tour victory, given the watered-down fall fields, even the most short-sighted prisoner of the moment would be justified given the Swede’s machine-like output and statistical masterpiece. He was first in the field in strokes gained: off the tee and strokes gained: tee to green, and fourth in strokes gained: putting.

“He’s kind of the modern-day player,” explained Hughes, who played the final 36 holes paired with Åberg. “No. 5 (a 407-yard par 4 that wraps dramatically around the marsh) is probably the true example of that. I’m playing left of that bunker and he flies it on the green and two-putts for birdie. Super impressive shot to not only hit it long but to hit that straight. Yeah, he’s got the whole package.”

It’s those attributes that convinced European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald to pick him for this year’s matches even though he’d never played in a major championship and was, despite a cabinet full of trophies and awards from college, very much an unproven professional commodity.

Having spent more than two decades competing against similarly gifted players in both Europe and the United States, Peter Hanson, the seven-time-European-tour-winner-turned-coach/mentor, immediately recognized the DNA.

“The way he drives the ball is among the best in the game – you’ve got Rory [McIlroy] and Scottie [Scheffler] who are right up there as well, but he looks so comfortable standing on a tee,” Hanson said. “You can take on a lot of golf courses with that strength.”

As a study in perfectionism, it was telling when Åberg was asked what area of his game he needs to improve – his wedge game, he said. Yet, he had just two approach shots over 150 yards on the closing nine over the final two rounds and played those holes in 10 under par.

But even six months into his pro career it’s clear that Åberg – who is relocating from Lubbock, Texas, to Tallahassee, Florida, to “rent a room” from fellow Swede Vincent Norrman – is more than the sum of those talented parts.

Although he’s the prototype with all the tools, there’s more to Åberg than an athletic frame with limitless power that’s drawn lofty comparisons to Adam Scott’s action. There’s a thoughtful and introspective side that bellies both his age and his abilities.

“My tendency is to get more stuck in the past more so than the future. I tend to get more disappointed and frustrated with myself more so than getting angry. I never get angry, but I do get disappointed and that kind of lingers,” explained Åberg, who admitted that on those rare occasions when he does get angry on the course, expletives flow in Swedish. “I think this week I did a really good job of letting that go.

“Even though coming down the last couple holes, obviously all these scenarios are running through my head of what’s it going to look like on 18, what’s Mackenzie going to do, is he going to charge me. I just expected him to make a lot of birdies, which forced me to make birdies as well.”

It’s that ability for self-reflection and personal improvement that made last month’s Ryder Cup something of a seminal moment for Åberg. Being a Ryder Cup rookie is one thing. Playing a Ryder Cup before you’ve played a major championship is an unprecedented leap.

“If you haven’t played majors and been exposed to that kind of pressure, obviously I knew his game was good enough to play Ryder Cup. It was a lot of work to try to prepare him mentally,” Hanson said. “It’s impossible to prepare for every angle of a Ryder Cup. You have to learn by going along.”

It was a similar story on Sunday on the Seaside Course. After keeping any potential challengers at bay with seven birdies through 11 holes, his first hiccup of the week gave the pack a glimmer of hope, however faint.

Hughes loomed just two shots back after the 12th hole, but Åberg answered with a textbook birdie at the par-5 15th hole and rattled in a 26-footer at No. 17 to make his first Tour victory walk up the 72nd hole about as stress-free as they come.

There was a rare flash of emotion when he was introduced as the “champion” (no pronunciation required), but if U.S. fans struggle with Åberg’s name – and it’s one to get used to – his father offered an alternative at Marco Simone, where he explained that young Åberg went by Luda (like Ludacris, the rapper).

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