The comparisons with Sergio Garcia are inevitable and appropriate based on the sheer skill and rapid rise. Just don’t look for Ludvig Aberg to be sprinting and strutting and leaping into the arms of his teammates at the Ryder Cup.
“It was like a walk in the park for him,” Luke Donald said in describing the moment the Swede effectively played his way onto the European team as one of his six captain’s picks.
That moment was Sunday when Aberg, some three months removed from his senior year at Texas Tech, made four straight birdies down the stretch to surge past former U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and win the European Masters in Switzerland.
“He’s a cool customer,” Donald said.
Texas Tech coach Greg Sands saw it when Aberg was 18 and playing his first European tour event at the Scandinavian Masters. He was among the last on the course, knew what the cut would be and made it without dropping a shot or breaking a sweat.
“Everybody falls in love with the physical side of things, how efficient he is and all those things visually you get to see up close,” Sands said Tuesday. “To me, it’s his ability to compartmentalize a moment. He keeps things simple. He doesn’t let distractions get him off.”
One such distraction might be playing with the Ryder Cup captain in his third start as a pro.
Donald had heard about Aberg, the No. 1 amateur and landslide leader of the PGA Tour University ranking. One of his vice captains, Edoardo Molinari, had played with Aberg in Dubai at the start of the year and the kid opened with a 65.
They were in the same group at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, starting on the 10th hole at Detroit Golf Club.
“First tee shot … just hits it absolutely on a string at the right line,” Donald said. “It just kept on going from there, the whole round.”
Aberg hit every fairway and missed only one green in a round of 65.
“It’s not easy,” Donald said. “I’ve played with a lot of (Ryder Cup) contenders over the last six to 12 months, and some haven’t played that well with me looking at them. But he didn’t have any problem.”
With two weeks left in the qualifying period, Donald suggested to Aberg that he come to the European tour. Aberg tied for fourth in the Czech Masters and won in Switzerland. Donald had six captain’s picks on Monday, and Aberg was an easy choice.
It’s no less amazing that he will be at Marco Simone outside Rome in three weeks, which leads to the Garcia comparisons.
They are the only two players to turn pro in the same year they debut in the Ryder Cup. Aberg takes it a step further as the only Ryder Cup player to have never even played in a major.
Garcia turned pro in April 1999, two weeks after he was low amateur at the Masters. He won in his sixth start at the Irish Open, and the 19-year-old earned a spot on the team when he nearly chased down Tiger Woods at Medinah in the PGA Championship.
Garcia had played only 13 times as a pro when he made his Ryder Cup debut. Aberg will have played only 10 times, which includes the BMW PGA Championship next week at Wentworth.
He is on the fast track, sure, but there is a patient side to him that led him to stay at Texas Tech for his senior year even before the PGA Tour announced plans to create a direct path to the big leagues for the top college senior.
“We had a long chat, and I was almost leaning that way because he was ready to go and I don’t want to be selfish,” Sands said. “He would get a lot of sponsor exemptions where he was ranked and it probably would have worked out.”
Aberg thought there was room to prove, and the decision worked out in a big way.
Europe had an aging team at Whistling Straits when it suffered its worst Ryder Cup loss. Aberg represents the future, along with another pick, 22-year-old Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark.
The Swede just didn’t expect it so quickly. He never really contemplated being in Italy for the Ryder Cup until he played with Donald in Detroit. He played well those two days (not so much on the weekend with rounds of 73-72), but the measure of Aberg was how it consumed him.
Because it didn’t.
“I felt like I’ve done a pretty good job of not thinking about it too much,” he said. “You want to be part of these teams at some point during your career, but I didn’t realize this was going to be this quickly.”
The real measure will be inside the ropes at Marco Simone facing the kind of pressure only the Ryder Cup can provide. It’s anything but a walk in the park.
Garcia thrived under it, at least until Sunday in his debut at Brookline. Over the next two decades, he smashed the Ryder Cup record for most points.
It’s too early to expect that of Aberg. Garcia’s intangible was Spanish passion. For Aberg, it’s his sense of the moment without the moment becoming too big for him.
The Ryder Cup figures to be the ultimate test.