‘He is a future world No 1’: the rise and rise of Ludvig Åberg reaches Augusta

billy Foster tells a story about one of Europe’s most talked-about golfers who played alongside the young Tiger Woods in 1996. “He’s a bit raw,” was the snide assessment. Within a year, Woods won his first Masters and disappeared over the horizon.

Foster’s own perceptions appear correct. The veteran caddy, now on Matt Fitzpatrick’s bag, was in the company of Ludvig Åberg when the Swede made his professional debut at the Canadian Open last June. On Friday evening, Foster texted Luke Donald. “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” Foster told the European Ryder Cup captain. ‘This boy is going to be a stud. Watch his every move.” Donald did more than that. Åberg made his Ryder Cup debut as Europe reclaimed the trophy in Rome. Donald had called his newcomer a “generational talent.” Eslöv, a town of about 20,000 inhabitants near Malmö, had produced a global star.

Adam Scott had to be convinced that Åberg’s performance at Augusta National would be his first at a major in the coming days. The illusion is created by the fact that the 24-year-old has won on both sides of the Atlantic, been ranked in the top 10 in the world and played a part in the Ryder Cup triumph, despite never having participated in one of the four major golf events. It also wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Åberg became the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win on his Masters debut.

“It’s been quite an increase,” said Scott, who won the Green Jacket in 2013. “But there are actually no weaknesses in his game. When you look at each area, it already looks very complete as a player. He clearly has some creativity and has learned incredibly good fundamentals.

“It is very difficult to determine who will make it and who will not. I think there are far fewer separations today than twenty years ago, but when you see someone like Ludvig passing by, you say: ‘I can’t miss.’ He has all the qualities to play at Augusta. He has all the qualities to play anywhere.”

Scott rightly admits that it was much less of a gamble for Åberg to enter the American university system – he had a hugely successful time at Texas Tech – than it was when he left Queensland for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the late 1990s. Åberg’s university coach, Greg Sands, also has a positive history with Swedish golfers.

Ludvig Åberg wins the Ryder Cup after European victory in Rome in 2023. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“The reputation of our university with the Swedish federation is good, so that probably helped Ludvig,” says Sands. “It came down to whether he chose us or Arizona State. He visited them both, but he felt best suited for us. We had a Norwegian coach at the time, he trusted him and me. He also thought the weather here would be more challenging. We are certainly all better off for his decision.” The funding model used for golf scholarships for Swedish players means they are less likely than some others to leave university before completing a degree.

Åberg had previously followed the sports specialization Filbornaskolan boarding school in Helsingborg. “The guys there are grown up, it’s almost like they’ve already been to college,” Sands says. “So it’s not really a culture shock coming here, staying in a student house and the like. Those from that particular school also want to work very hard. They take things very seriously.”

TCredit to Sands, he claims he didn’t know Åberg would take professional golf by storm. “He always had the physical tools, but with us he quickly picked up on all the little things you need to win,” Sands said. “He knew he had to get better at putting, pitching and reading lines. He approached his weaknesses very directly and rolled up his sleeves. He wanted to know where his shortcomings were because he saw failure as a great motivator to improve. People fall in love with his physical skills, but they don’t know how strong he is mentally and how much he wants to learn.

“You realize this boy is very good and you know he is going to be a successful professional player. I told people he would win a major. But you also see many good players who do not adapt immediately. I might not have expected him to do so many things so quickly. I underestimated his ability to feel comfortable. He could win that major now.”

However, there were clear clues as to what might happen next. Åberg climbed to the top of the world amateur rankings. His 2021 success at the Jones Cup in Georgia came in miserable weather. Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed are also former winners of that event.

Åberg’s calmness quickly becomes apparent. This also applies to the pace at which he conducts his business. His pre-shot routine is one of the fastest in the game. Paul McGinley, Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup captain, admires Åberg’s “imperturbable presence”. McGinley added: “He has that great character of, ‘Next shot, next shot, next shot.’ Let’s not think about it too much, let’s just play it.’ From the moment he takes the club out of the bag, quickly consults with the caddy and stands over the ball, one look and bang. There’s a lot to be said for that.

The Masters scoreboard is ready at Augusta, with Ludvig Åberg’s name at the top left (just) visible. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

“You can tell he’s in that beautiful place where he’s enjoying the environment he’s in, taking things at his leisure and not being unduly influenced by success.”

McGinley believes only the level of Åberg’s ambition will determine how good he can be. Åberg is ruthless; In an excellent 2023, he still changed caddy to Joe Skovron, who was alongside Rickie Fowler during the American’s rise to fame a decade ago.

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Åberg visited Augusta National in the wake of last month’s Players Championship. He also played there during his freshman year of college. “I just remember being on cloud nine,” Åberg recalls of his first trip. “You walk around and think, ‘What kind of place is this?’ It’s just so cool and special. It will be a pleasure to play there again. I thought I might go back as a touring professional, but I probably didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it has. Augusta has been on my mind since the moment I qualified.” Swedish dreams are made of this.

Åberg’s ambitions clearly do not end with merely taking his place in the Masters field. “I know I’ve improved a lot over the past year, but I also know I still have a lot more to give,” he says.

“Of course I feel comfortable with my qualities and my capabilities. I think that’s the most important thing. Hopefully I can perform well on that stage and I’ll see where that ends. But I feel comfortable with what I do and I try not to change too much from week to week.”

Shane Lowry had only played with Åberg during a practice round the day before the Ryder Cup started. The Irishman was quickly convinced of what he was looking at. “He is the future world number one,” Lowry said. “He is the most impressive golfer I have seen since Rory (McIlroy).”

Lowry does point out that “all the other things” that someone in Åberg’s position has to deal with can become more important than how he hits tee shots or irons. Should Åberg’s career develop as many predict, the hype surrounding him will bring extra pressure.

“I think he needs to take advantage of the momentum he has right now,” Scott said. “It inevitably comes and goes throughout a career, and for some it is worse than for others. But when you run, you have to keep running and keep pushing. As far as I see it as another player, there’s nothing stopping him from breaking through and winning a major. He should do that right now.

Åberg poses with the European Masters trophy after his victory in Switzerland in 2023. Photo: Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA-EFE

“At a similar age, after winning the Players, it was an opportunity for me to really encounter those majors. And I just struggled with them. When I was critical of myself, it all came a bit easy and at the biggest tournaments they expose all the flaws you have. So I could have pushed myself harder, looking back on it. And we had Tiger at a point where it was hard to believe you were going to beat him. That’s just not the case here today.”

Henrik Stenson, who grew up Åberg, took his compatriot out to dinner during a PGA Tour stop in San Antonio two years ago. Stenson does not claim to have played a key role in Åberg’s development, but is well placed to assess the golfer’s potential value to Sweden. “He has a mature head on young shoulders,” Stenson said. “He does his thing without being super low or super high. He stays within his own framework and does things his way.

“We still have such a strong heritage in hockey, football and all the winter sports and so on, so golf is always kind of knocking on the door in that sense. But it also all depends on how dominant you become within a sport. If Ludvig became as dominant as Björn Borg or Ingemar Stenmark or Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) in golf, why couldn’t he be as great in that sense? But there are still a lot of shots to be fired before we get to that point.” At Augusta, the less the better. It is the latest fascinating test for Åberg.