Ludvig Åberg: Living Up to the Hype

Hype is for the social media crowd, the folks who sit upon barstools and at tables following their rounds and pontificate about what they know about young golfers they haven’t seen. And just how do they “know?” Well, because they heard from someone who was told by someone, or they read it somewhere—though they can’t remember where—that so-and-so was the real deal.

But John “Jumbo” Elliott speaks for the fraternity of grizzled professional golfers when he says nonsense. He’ll judge for himself.

Geoff Ogilvy, who won a U.S. Open, feels similarly. And the same goes for Rory McIlroy, who owns four major championships and has a spot reserved in his name in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

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Ludvig Åberg acknowledges the crowd walking off the 18th green during the final round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

In their travels they’ve seen too many golfers who couldn’t live up to whatever hype had been put forth to trumpet their arrival. But they will gladly tell you of the rare “aha moments” they have experienced, that time when they’ve witnessed a youngster’s greatness and accept that the hype is warranted.

Are we talking about Ludvig Åberg? The smile gives it away, because indeed McIlroy confirmed that he had heard a lot of the young Swede, especially in months leading up to the 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy.

Four wins and five other top-10 finishes in Texas Tech University’s 10-tournament season solidified the senior’s “can’t miss” stature, only McIlroy barely paid notice. But when Ryder Cup vice-captains Francesco and Edoardo Molinari—in the field when Åberg in his debut as a professional on the DP World Tour finished T-4 in Czech Republic—supplied positive notes, the hype was in overdrive.

A week later, Åberg won the Omega European Masters and McIlroy suspected that European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald was sold. McIlroy only watched Åberg in practice sessions in Italy but liked what he saw.

Still, McIlroy resides in that “you have to show me” state of mind. To him, it wasn’t a 9-and-7 foursomes beating that Åberg and Viktor Hovland inflicted upon Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler that registered.

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Ludvig Aberg of Team Europe lifts the Ryder Cup trophy following victory with 16 and a half to 11 and a half win following the Sunday singles matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome, Italy. (photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

“It was the AT&T (Pebble Beach Pro-Am) in February, when I got paired with him,” says McIlroy, who was then ranked second in the world. Åberg, then No. 27, had added a PGA Tour win to his resume (the RSM Classic in November); still, the uber-talented McIlroy doesn’t trust anything except his eyes.

And what did his eyes tell him after Åberg shot 68–65 against McIlroy’s 71–74? “That it’s not very often when a golfer I see doesn’t just live up to the hype but exceeds it.”

McIlroy was that sort of player himself, way back in 2009 when he played his first pro event on U.S. soil, in the WGC Match Play Championship. His mop of hair bulging from beneath his hat, McIlroy, then 20, vaulted into the quarterfinals against Ogilvy.

“We had heard about Rory for a couple of years, and I’d seen a little bit of him on TV,” says Ogilvy, then a five-time PGA Tour winner. “But I hadn’t seen him up close.”

Their match took care of that as Ogilvy, who would win that year’s WGC Match Play for the second time, played brilliantly, and still couldn’t shake McIlroy. Down two very late in the match, McIlroy drove into a bunker with a huge lip and the situation said: game over.

Only McIlroy hoisted a shot that scraped the sky and came to rest about 150 yards away and set up his birdie.

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Ludvig Aberg, right, and Rory McIlroy talk during the second round of the 2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“I birdied 15, 16, and 17 and all for halved holes. I was incredibly impressed. The way he drove the ball. The sound it made when he hit it. It was just different,” says Ogilvy, who won, 2 and 1.

On the shuttle ride back to the clubhouse Ogilvy’s great caddie, Alistair Matheson, who was known as “Squirrel,” looked at his mate and said: “If you want to be the second-best player in the world, you’ve got to be better than Rory.”

Astute man that Squirrel, because he was accounting for Woods as being far and away the best in the world, which is as good a time as any to introduce Elliott.

A journeyman pro from Connecticut with a colorful resume that includes five years as a PGA Tour member, Elliott is one of two answers to a trivia question: Who were Woods’s playing competitors in his first pro round at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open?

“At that point, I’d seen everyone, but he was an amateur. I’d finished T-14 in Vancouver the week before, I’m fine,” says Elliott, who also played alongside Jeff Hart.

There were security officers everywhere and more people than he’d ever seen at a golf tournament, but Elliott shrugged. “I wasn’t nervous; I’m a pro, I don’t know any college golfers.”

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Ludvig Aberg reacts to winning the 2023 RSM Classic on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Resort (photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Then Woods delivered an opening drive measured at about 336 yards. “Aha moment,” Elliott thought.

Five holes later, “He hits a trap driver around the corner about 300 yards, and unloads on a wicked 5-iron about 230 yards. Makes eagle.” Double-Aha moment.

“He’s pretty good, isn’t he?” Elliott famously said to the crowd.

There wasn’t any such public proclamation made at the RBC Heritage when McIlroy was paired with Åberg for a second time in three months. But after another stripe show by the Swede, who shot 66–66 against McIlroy’s 67–68, the Northern Irishman nodded his head.

The aha moment had played out in February. This was April and Åberg—he of two wins, six top 10s, just one missed cut, and a world-ranking of No. 6 in just 23 pro starts headed into the PGA Championship—was old, but brilliant, news by now, even if he low-keyed it to extremes.

“I trust my game,” Åberg said humbly.

Well, McIlroy, the jury foreman, has weighed in. In Åberg’s game, he trusts.

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