Five days ago, 23-year-old Swede Ludvig Aberg (pronounced oh-bear for reasons only Scandinavians would understand) was in Rome, playing Ryder Cup golf in front of the world. He and teammate Victor Hovland needed only nine holes to shockingly bury world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and five-time major champion Brooks Koepka 9 and 7 in a foursomes match, the most one-sided in Ryder Cup history.
Sunday night and well into daylight Monday morning, Aberg, the youngest golfer in the Ryder Cup, was still in Rome celebrating Europe’s lopsided victory.
Yes, and two days later, on Wednesday morning, at 8:17 a.m., there jet-lagged Aberg was, long and lanky and with piercing blue eyes, on the first tee of the Country Club of Jackson about to tee off in the Sanderson Farms Championship pro-am. He will begin play in the 72-hole championship Thursday afternoon at 1:50 p.m.
The obvious question was: Why? Why would the guy many experts deem golf’s next big superstar play here so soon after what he had helped accomplish more than 5,000 miles away. He was asked that in the media tent after completing his nine holes in the Wednesday’s pro-am.
“I was committed to play in this tournament before Rome,” Aberg answered. “I wanted to honor my commitment. I know it’s good for me. For me to get all these experiences on different golf courses, different tournaments, play as much as I can I know it’s good for me.”
Yes, but the jet lag? The fatigue?
“I’d like to think that I am still young and can handle it,” he answered.
There’s not much Aberg hasn’t been able to handle where golf is concerned. Before turning pro, he was No. 1 in world amateur rankings. At Texas Tech, he was a two-time winner of the Ben Hogan Award as the best collegiate player in the nation. A month ago, he won the Omega European Masters, making four birdies in the last five holes for a two-shot victory and his first victory as a pro.
Get this: Four months into his professional career, he is the betting favorite to win the Sanderson Farms Championship with 10-to-1 odds. Compare that to defending champion MacKenzie Hughes, who will go off at 45-to-1. Hattiesburg native Davis Riley, already winner of more than $6 million on tour, will go off at 55-to-1. Clearly, expectations for Aberg are off the charts.
Greenwood’s Jim Gallagher Jr., who knows a thing or two about Ryder Cup hero status, is blown away by Aberg’s potential. Gallagher covered Aberg both in college golf and last week in Rome.
“We do a lot of college golf on TV now, so I watched him a lot at Texas Tech,” said Gallagher, here in Jackson this week to provide color commentary for The Golf Channel. “His college coach described him as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and I see nothing about him that says otherwise. Think about it: Four months ago, he’s carrying his own golf bag in college tournaments, and this past weekend he’s winning the Ryder Cup.
“His golf swing is impeccable. He hits it so far and makes it look effortless. He stays on an even keel. He’s it. He’s got it. And he’s such a nice person, he’s really easy to pull for.”
Listening to Aberg speak — and he speaks impeccable English — you realize he is determined to become the best golfer he can be, which may well be No. 1 in the world at some point. And that point could come soon.
“I was able to test the waters a little bit playing in the Ryder Cup and being around those guys,” Aberg said. “So for me to have those experiences and knowing what it takes to be the best player in the world and to create relationships with those guys and hang out with them was unbelievable. Hopefully that’s something that I’ll be able to use to my advantage the rest of this year and then also for the rest of my career.”
What did he learn from playing with — and against — the best of the best?
“They’re very good at handling and managing their own game,” Aberg answered. “It doesn’t matter what the situation is, they know what it takes, and they know their own capabilities. It sounds maybe cheesy to say, but they really are the masters of it, and that’s what I am trying to strive towards. That’s what I am trying to get to.”
What Aberg also surely learned, although he wouldn’t say it, is that he belongs with the best. The pressure of the Ryder Cup was by no means too big for him even though, as he said, “I was shaking on that first tee.”
If the Sanderson Farms Championship were a football game, Aberg’s coach probably would warn him against an emotional letdown. Think about it: He goes from playing in and winning one of golf’s biggest, most pressure-packed events before tens of thousands, to playing in a much more low-key tournament in front of hundreds. Aberg says he doesn’t look at it that way.
“I am going to be nervous Thursday morning no matter what,” he said. “I’m going to view it as the most important thing in the world as I’m standing on the tee box … Obviously last week was an incredible experience, but it’s also in the past. I am here this week. That’s where my focus is.”
As it should be.