Ludvig Aberg had a big reputation from his amateur career. He clearly had the game, too.
Still, Europe captain Luke Donald needed to see the 23-year-old Swede up close if he was going to make him a pick for the Ryder Cup. So, just one month after Aberg turned professional, Donald played the first two rounds with him at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on the PGA Tour in early July.
“I was blown away,” Donald said of a young player who delivered one final flourish in the Swiss mountains on Sunday to ensure he’d make the transition from the amateur ranks to the Ryder Cup quicker than anyone in history.
A day after surging to victory in the European Masters under intense pressure, Aberg capped his rapid rise in just three months as a pro by earning one of Donald’s six picks for the matches against the United States outside Rome from Sept. 29-Oct. 1.
“I played with a lot of contenders over these last six to 12 months. Some haven’t played that well,” Donald said. “But he didn’t have any problem.”
Donald filled out his team Monday by picking Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Justin Rose along with three rookies — Aberg, Sepp Straka and Nicolai Hojgaard — as Europe bids to win back the trophy after being routed by the Americans at Whistling Straits in 2021. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Robert MacIntyre qualified automatically.
Straka and Hojgaard got the call ahead of Adrian Meronk in what was widely seen as Donald’s toughest decision, but it’s the presence of Aberg that will most excite European golf fans.
He turned pro when ranked as the world’s No. 1 amateur and after being named the best college player in the United States for a second straight year at Texas Tech. Aberg posted four top-25 finishes in his first two months on the PGA Tour, then headed back to Europe in a bid to convince Donald he deserved a Ryder Cup call-up.
Winning in Switzerland by reeling off four straight birdies late in the final round to chase down Fitzpatrick presented a case Donald just couldn’t ignore.
“He showed yesterday in Crans he has the potential to be one of golf’s superstars,” Donald said. “It was like a walk in the park for him.”
Donald noted that Aberg, who has yet to play in a major championship, played the kind of golf on the college scene that only Rahm and Hovland — two of the world’s current top four and automatic qualifiers for Europe’s Ryder Cup team — have produced over the past 20 years.
He also knows the pressure Aberg will be under as the only the second golfer, after Sergio Garcia, to play a Ryder Cup in the same year as they turned pro. And still Donald had no problem picking him.
So, is Aberg feeling any trepidation about the eyes of the golfing world being on him at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club?
“As a competitor, these are the tournaments you want to be a part of — you want to have that shot, you want to have that putt, to get a point or to win a match,” Aberg said. “Absolutely I’m up for the challenge.”
At 43 and set for his sixth Ryder Cup appearance, Rose will be the veteran of the European team and he spoke in glowing terms of Aberg and his potential.
“I don’t follow the college scene that closely, wasn’t really aware of all the names coming through, but I was very much aware of this European stud,” Rose said. “Very quickly his name was on the leaderboards.
“It became easy to follow him. And I’m not going to lie, he’s one of the guys who has such an impressive game to the point where in the evening, if you haven’t watched any golf coverage, you click on his name and go to the shot tracker and you go, ‘Oh my God, he hit it 340 yards down the middle of that fairway and flicked a wedge in.’”
Fleetwood narrowly missed out on automatic selection via the World Points List but was an obvious pick for his third Ryder Cup appearance. Lowry, another major winner, will be playing in his second straight Ryder Cup.
Then there are the rookies.
Straka, ranked No. 23 and a 30-year-old Austrian who has lived the U.S. since he was 14, was rewarded for strong recent form which saw him win the John Deere Classic and tie for second at the British Open in July, then finish tied for sixth at the Tour Championship eight days ago.
Donald said the 78th-ranked Hojgaard, a Dane who is the youngest player on the team at age 22, got in on the back of three top 10s in his most recent six events.
That meant Meronk missed out despite being a consistent performer on the European tour. He won this year’s Italian Open at Marco Simone, where Hojgaard also won in 2021.
Europe hasn’t lost a Ryder Cup on home soil since 1993 and Donald will be taking four rookies to Rome — MacIntyre also is playing in his first — in a bid to avenge that 19-9 loss two years ago.
“They are going to be strong,” Donald said of the Americans. “They are always stronger than us on paper and world rankings, and obviously they had a pretty convincing win two years ago. We certainly don’t underestimate them. They are going to be extremely tough opponents. But we’ll be ready for them.”