Ludvig Aberg's meteoric rise continues at the Ryder Cup

Europe and US reveal opening pairings for the 2023 Ryder Cup foursomes (1:28)

Tom Hamilton reacts to Europe and US's opening pairings for the 2023 Ryder Cup foursomes in Rome. (1:28)

Ludvig Aberg's career is on a rapid rise. In May, he played his final college tournament at the NCAA golf championship in Scottsdale, Arizona. In June, he'd already topped the PGA Tour University rankings and earned his PGA Tour status.

Three months after turning pro and winning the European Masters on Sept. 3, he got a call from Europe Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald. Donald congratulated him on the victory in Switzerland and followed it by telling him he was one of his six captain's picks to play at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club

It was the quickest transition in history from amateur to the Ryder Cup, with Aberg also the first to earn a spot before having played a Major. With that came a huge amount of noise -- he had moved beyond golf circles and into the world sports consciousness.

In Rome, the young Swedish star has been the talk of the Marco Simone golf course. Players past and present have been asked about him. His teammates speak glowingly of him. And everyone's trying to find out why he's so damn calm, and why this prestigious talent doesn't seem the least bit flustered by his accelerated existence.

On Tuesday, Aberg was doing his official news conference as a Ryder Cup player. He fielded questions on whether he's one day going to be more famous than ABBA. "I would not put myself in the same sentence as them," he answered. There was another question on what makes him angry ("I'm a pretty calm guy") and why he's called "The Stud" by his teammates ("It's very flattering for sure"). "All I try to do is play golf and I try to hit as few shots as I can every tournament I play in," he said when asked about fame.

At the back of the room watching was Aberg's mentor, Peter Hanson, who played at the 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cups. Next to Hanson was vice-captain Nicolas Colsaerts, who has been paired with Aberg this week. Hanson and Colsaerts were reminiscing about their 2012 Ryder Cup experience through the nostalgic prism of watching the 23-year-old preparing to become the latest prodigy to play for Europe.

"He's taken one step, you know, a step that would take a normal player maybe a year or far more," Hanson told ESPN. "He takes that in a couple of weeks, adjusts to it and takes it on the chin a little bit. Someone asked me like, are you surprised? And I said, both yes or no, you know what I mean? Because it's almost unreal how he's made his way from being a great college player and winning all these great awards to getting here. But we know he's good. From when he turned pro to standing here, it's an amazing journey."

Aberg only allowed himself to imagine playing in this year's Ryder Cup after he finished college in May. He'd heard rumblings that perhaps he had an outside chance to make the team, but he only allowed himself to dream when he was standing next to Luke Donald on the first tee of the Detroit Golf Club on June 30.

The two exchanged pleasantries, and Aberg looked over the 343-yard par 4, wary of the two bunkers running along the left side. His Texas Tech golf coach Greg Sands was watching. Aberg shot a 65 alongside the Ryder Cup captain that round. It was no coincidence Donald had been paired with him.

"I just turned to my colleague and I go, 'he's going to make that team,'" Sands told ESPN. "I've been a coach for 23 years, and if I was Luke Donald and I basically audition a kid and he does that, it was really impressive. But with the Ryder Cup, it's about how that translates to what they're looking for. I mean, do you want to play alternate shot with a guy that hits it 320 in the fairway? Absolutely. Do you want a guy that's really calm and can handle that moment? Absolutely. And so I told my colleague at that time, like, he just made the team."

When Donald picked him on Sept. 4, he referred to Aberg as a "generational talent." It's a gift honed on the snow-filled courses in the south of Sweden and nurtured in Texas.

Whenever Aberg returns home to Sweden, he visits his local golf club in Eslöv. He first picked up a golf club at aged 4 or 5, and his father Johan used to bribe him to stay longer on the course with the promise of ice cream. As Ludvig became more devoted to the sport, daylight would be at a premium during the winter months, but he'd still be out with a broom in his golf bag to clear snow off the green. The powdery flakes covering the course offered a neat alternative to a decent bunker lie.

When he was 16, he managed to secure a spot at the renowned boarding school Filbornaskolan, a place which specializes in sporting excellence (called a Riksidrottsgymnasium) and includes alumni like Alex Noren, Pernilla Lindberg and Madelene Sagstrom, along with footballer Henrik Larsson. There, Aberg practiced golf in the morning with Hans Larsson -- still his swing coach -- and studied in the afternoon.

"It was probably the first time that I started to practice -- before that, I was just going out and playing," Aberg said at Wentworth.

He was later spotted by Sands, who was on a scouting trip at the European Boys Championship. Texas Tech has several Swedish players on their alumni list and have earned the trust of the coaches. The scouting mission is a hotly contested exercise, with 30 to 40 coaches there watching the young prospects. But Aberg was always on Sands' radar.

"You know, there's several kids that the coaches preferred maybe more than him," Sands said. "But he certainly was a guy that everybody was looking at, like, this kid could be good. I saw a kid that had a really, really high ceiling. He was a big, tall kid, swung the club well, but I didn't quite pick up on how good he was mentally."

Texas Tech quickly secured Aberg's signature after his verbal commitment, with Arizona State also recruiting him. "It was during that time we started seeing some things like, oh my gosh, this guy's going to be really good," Sands said. "He started to do some things where you started going, hey, this guy's not scared of the moment and has a chance to be really special."

He also caught the eye of golf coach Mikkel Bjerch-Andresen, who was at Stephen F. Austin State University and later ended up working with Sands at Texas Tech. They put together their pitch for Aberg.

"Greg gives me a lot of credit, which I appreciate and college golf, everything is, is a team effort where two coaches and so we worked together on everything and recruiting is obviously a big component of that," Bjerch-Andresen told ESPN. "We just tried to, you know, be ourselves obviously. And it clicked."

Aberg established himself as the top college golf player in the country, having arrived at Texas Tech in fall 2019. At the end of his third year in college, he considered leaving and turning pro, but decided to finish school and attend for a fourth year.

"He went home and talked with his parents and, and came back and sat down and told me, he said, 'Hey, I decided to spend one extra year in [school],'" Sands said. "He goes 'I just feel like I've got, you know, room to grow.' And at that point, he knew he was going to get some sponsor's exemptions during the year. We supported that. I remember sitting there, trying to act calm but underneath the desk I'm like just giving a big first pump. He felt like there were some things specifically with his putting, his pitching and some things he just felt like he had freedom to work on instead of trying to learn on the fly while making money as a professional."

His fourth year coincided with the first year the PGA Tour University scheme changed criteria: The top-ranked golfer that year would be awarded a PGA Tour card instead of Korn Ferry Tour status. Aberg was the dominant college golfer.

"It felt like at some points this guy's almost like playing with his prey," Sands said. "You know, he is like a shark and he just kind of hangs in there, you know, does kind of the low risk things for first two rounds and then when he needs to, he turns on the jets. After a few times of him kind of backdooring wins, top fives or top 10s, we really started to say, "Hey, you know, you're good enough to try to take charge of a tournament, try to win wire to wire. And that really started maybe happening in his last year when he was able to really take ownership."

Keeping a close eye on his progress was Ryder Cup vice-captain Edoardo Molinari, who has a side business as performance coach to Viktor Hovland, among several others, while running his own stats data platform StatisticGolf. Molinari was monitoring Aberg's form, and in late January, he played alongside him at the Dubai Desert Classic, with Aberg gaining entry through an exemption. After witnessing Aberg shoot a 65 in the opening round, he picked up the phone to Donald and said: "We need to keep an eye on this guy."

"They have a certain talent that you see them hit golf balls and you're blown away, just by the different strike, the sound, the trajectory," Donald said of Aberg. "How he can drive a golf ball is very, very impressive. We just kept an eye on him. It was a long shot [in January], it really was."

Another one of Aberg's eye-catching performances came at Whispering Pines in April where he won the Big 12 championship for the second year in a row. His performance was the talk of the college scene. "The conditions were just horrendous," Bjerch-Andresen said. "And I remember then talking with Greg and I was like, 'How good is he right now? Like, how good do you think he is?' And he said 'Like, I'm going to throw something out. I think he's top 50 in the world period.' And that was the first time Greg mentioned the idea he could make the Ryder Cup."

Aberg won the Ben Hogan Award in 2022 and 2023 for the most outstanding collegiate player, becoming the second player to win the honor twice in as many years following Jon Rahm. He was also named winner of The Haskins Award and the recipient of the Jack Nicklaus award in 2023, becoming the sixth player in the history of college golf to scoop all three.

"I owe a lot to Texas Tech University," Aberg said Tuesday. "I feel like they gave me the opportunities to come over to the States, play, practice. We play a really good schedule. So I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect whenever I did turn pro. I feel like the level of competition in college is really good, too."

And so Donald went to Detroit in late June to see this Swedish prodigy firsthand.

"I later talked to him and he goes, 'Hey coach, you don't know this, but Luke turned his bag toward me and showed me his Ryder Cup captain bag right before I teed off on the first tee,'" Sands said. "So it wasn't a secret what he was up to. It was a moment where Luke was like, 'Hey, show me what you got kid' without saying it. That's a story really no one really knows."

But Donald needed more persuasion and challenged and encouraged Aberg to visit Europe and play at the Czech Masters and the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland. He finished fourth in Prague, and then won at Crans on Sept. 3. Then came Donald's call.

"I needed to see him perform those two weeks," Donald said. "It certainly wasn't a guarantee before that. And you know, his commitment to come over, finishing fifth at cheque and then obviously what he [did] throughout the whole week in Crans, birdieing his last four, just kind of solidified my mind, really.

"Whenever the question was asked of him to come and commit and show up and play well under the most scrutiny, he seemed to perform at a very high level."

Back in Texas, after hearing Aberg's name read by Donald, Sands planned his trip to Marco Simone, coordinating with Bjerch-Andresen, who's now living in Norway. They talked about the Aberg they'd seen join Texas Tech with the nickname "Ken."

"We always referred to him as Ken," Bjerch-Andresen said. "You know, he is just kind of like out the box, just get him in the right shirt and get him to the course. He is just the perfect guy in so many ways. He's just so easy for a coach to just kind of, you know, he's a Ken. You just get him out of the, the package and just put him out and he's just ready to go. He is perfect."

It's all acclimated with his on and off-course manner. On the course, he's earned a reputation for being one of the most accurate and deadly drivers in the game. "Obviously, the driver is the most fun club to hit. It goes the furthest," Aberg said. "I felt that way since I was probably 10, and I still feel that way."

Donald -- who frequently references the importance of stats -- knows well what to expect when Aberg steps up to the tee this week. "If you look at even just statistics this year, he would be the No. 1 driver in the world ahead of Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler. That's pretty high standards for someone that's just come out of college."

But other than his ballstriking, one of the other most talked about aspects of Aberg's game is his incredibly calm demeanor and unshakeable mentality. Whatever the circumstance, he finds the sweet spot to keep a level head.

"He loves failure because it shows him where he needs to work," Sands said. "And so he's got an uncanny ability to embrace what shows up and compartmentalizes that into a drawer. Whatever the situation is, he is able to kind of pull that drawer open, so to speak, and put those emotions in and shut that drawer and open another one and just execute his game."

Donald is impressed by that aspect of his game.

"He seems very unfazed," Donald said. "He's quite quiet. He's a listener. Every time he's sort of asked a question of trying to perform, he's able to step up, and I'm excited to have him on the team. You never get too much high or low from Ludvig. He's just very even-keeled."

Players, journalists and fans have tried to find out the secret of his even-headed mentality. "I've tried meditating," Aberg said. "But I get too bored to do it to be fair, so I don't do that anymore. I don't do necessarily anything special. I just try to be myself and not try to be anyone else."

On Sept. 11, Team Europe tested the course at Marco Simone. He teamed with Hovland and defeated McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood 3 and 2 in best ball. McIlroy told him at the first tee how he'd been looking forward to playing with Aberg for the first time. "The ballstriking is incredible," McIlroy said of Aberg later at Wentworth. "But I was really impressed with his wedge play and how he can sort of control his trajectory with shorter clubs. I was on the bandwagon before. [I'm] certainly at the front of it now."

He's caught the eye of his other teammates too. "When you have the tools, it is easy to trust it," Hovland said at Wentworth. He's obviously very mature and you just step up and do it. He's super talented and he is going to be around a long time. He's going to do great things."

Aberg spent the weekend before the Ryder Cup at the Solheim Cup in Spain supporting Madelene Sagstrom -- his caddie Jack Clarke's fiancée -- who was on the European team. He traveled from Malaga to Rome on budget airline Wizz Air, just another face on a plane.

But there's been no blissful anonymity at Marco Simone.

Aberg's experience started on Monday with practice rounds. Wherever Aberg went, there were fans clamoring to get his autograph. One fan from Sweden -- wearing a yellow and blue jersey -- was lucky enough to get his sleeve signed, the L and A pronounced in the squiggle. "He's our shining star," the fan said.

On Tuesday, he had his news conference, with Hanson and Colsaerts watching. Aberg remembers the 2012 Ryder Cup fondly and watching his fellow countryman Hanson take on the USA. Now Hanson is his mentor, with Colsaerts helping.

"When I listened to the press conference, it reminded me a little bit how Nicolas was at Medina. It's just a great mindset, super relaxed and then a case of delivering the best golf under the most incredible pressure which Nicolas did back in 2012 when he beat Tiger on day one," Hanson told ESPN. "So I see a little bit of similarity between how Nicolas reacted to that situation and how Ludvig is here. Nicolas obviously came in and listened into Ludvig's press conference and we had a bit of fun with it, and I said it's almost like history repeats itself."

On Friday, he was second up in the morning foursomes, tasked with getting Europe off to a quick start. He hadn't slept well, the nerves jingling around inside him, but he showed no ill-effects. He was partnered with Hovland and the two dominated Max Homa and Brian Harman, winning 4&3. Whatever pressure moment he found himself in, there was a solution, like his tricky 16-foot putt on the 9th that he slotted to establish a three-hole lead.

Donald had said earlier in the week Aberg was "going to let his clubs do the talking" and he did just that. Up until he hit his first shot on Friday, one of his highlights this week was getting a high five off Novak Djokovic -- all part of his Ryder Cup experience. But once it was down to business, under the baking sun, with 40,000 spectators crowding the course, he started his Ryder Cup career with victory and a key point. It marked the next chapter of a career that started on the snow-covered Eslövs Golfklubb and in the blink of an eye continues just north of Rome.

"If someone would have told me a couple months ago that I would be here playing a Ryder Cup, I probably wouldn't believe them," Aberg said earlier in the week. "But I would believe them if I said that I could do it, probably yeah.

"But it's really cool the way that these last couple of months has panned out for me. It's been quite intense and you know, I'm trying to embrace it. I try to enjoy it. But it's really cool to be here."