Ryder Cup audition: In front of Captain Donald, Ludvig Aberg lifts off in Detroit

Ryder Cup audition: In front of Captain Donald, Ludvig Aberg lifts off in Detroit
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Ludvig Aberg’s Ryder Cup audition couldn’t have gone much better.

Playing alongside European captain Luke Donald for the first two rounds of this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, Aberg, still in his first month as a professional golfer, shot 65-67 and at 12 under is just a shot off the lead at Detroit Golf Club.

Donald asked to be grouped with Aberg – Englishman Danny Willett rounded out their threesome – assuredly so that he could scout the 23-year-old Swede, who exactly a month ago was accepting the Haskins Award, one of three national player of the year awards that he collected as a Texas Tech senior. Aberg performed impressively, showing off his supreme driving ability and deft hands.

Aberg didn’t miss a fairway, hitting all 14 of them in Thursday’s opening round, and through 36 holes he’s missed only three while primarily hitting driver around a soft Detroit Golf Club layout. He also leads the field in driving distance, averaging 330.2 yards off the tee.

“My driver’s been behaving quite well this week so far,” Aberg said.

And that’s not all. In addition to leading the field in strokes gained off the tee (+4.652) and tee to green (+7.945), Aberg ranks fourth in strokes gained around the green (+2.987). He scrambled well on Friday, getting up and down on four of five occasions, with a poor chip that led to his only bogey, at the par-3 ninth, being the only missed conversion. (Aberg is an above-average putter, too, though he’s not put much stress on his flatstick; five of his six birdie makes in Round came from inside 10 feet, with four of those inside 6 feet.)

That kind of skillset would play nicely on a European Ryder Cup setup in a few months in Italy.

First, though, Aberg must earn one of Donald’s six captain’s picks.

With Euro stalwarts such as Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter unlikely to be picked, that opens up opportunities for some fresh faces, including Aberg, who has taken up DP World Tour membership and is eligible for Donald’s 12-man team. At this point in qualification, Donald appears to have eight spots accounted for by veterans, whether via automatic berths or surefire captain’s picks – Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry.

That seemingly leaves four picks up for grabs. Yannick Paul currently holds an auto spot through European points while Adrian Meronk, Sepp Straka, Victor Perez and Seamus Power are among the notables ranked highly on both points lists. Meronk won at Marco Simone, site of this year’s matches, and looks to be a decent bet to earn a nod. But none of the other options have significantly outplayed Aberg since the Swede turned pro earlier this month. And when you consider Aberg has opened his pro career with back-to-back top-25s on the PGA Tour and is contending for the win this week, most of his European competition hasn’t outperformed him at all.

Highlights: Rocket Mortgage Classic, Round 2

Truth is, Aberg is more than just a social-media pipedream; he’s very much on Donald’s radar – perhaps even high on the captain’s wish list. Donald seeking out a grouping with the recent top-ranked amateur certainly backs up that thought.

Aberg, however, isn’t concerning himself with something that is months away – Donald will make his six selections on Sept. 4, three weeks before match week in Rome. Right now, he’s got a golf tournament to win.

Aberg lifted four college trophies this spring, including Big 12 and NCAA regional wins. In total, he captured eight college individual titles while also winning the 2021 Jones Cup, a prestigious amateur event, and the now defunct Sun Bowl All-America Classic, college golf’s version of the all-star game. Add in a couple pro victories in Sweden during the pandemic, and Aberg has shown he’s plenty capable of winning.

“I think I’ve heard some interviews with Scottie [Scheffler] where he says winning is a skill, and he’s very right about that,” Aberg said. “It is a little bit different playing with a lead [than] playing right under the lead. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in that position a lot this year in college, so I felt like I got better at that as the season went on. I’m looking forward to having those same nerves here.”

Aberg knows those feelings will be different now that he’s vying for a PGA Tour title.

The competition is tougher.

The golf course demands that you go low.

And there’s so much at stake: locking up a two-year Tour exemption; a likely Masters invitation; validating the enormous expectations by winning on Tour faster than even those Summer of 2019 boys, Matt Wolff and Collin Morikawa, did; oh, and Donald, who is T-29 on the leaderboard, will be sticking around for the weekend and likely still keeping tabs on his prized recruit.

Full-field scores from Rocket Mortgage Classic

But the hole remains the same size, and all Aberg can control is to keep trying to find it in the fewest number of shots possible.

“At the end of the day, I know what I’m capable of and I know that I can hit the golf shots,” Aberg said, “but you’ve got to be able to handle everything else kind of in this new setting for me. So far, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that. I’m just trying to do my best and try to embrace it as good as I can and see where that takes me.”

It could take him all the way to Rome.

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