Could a college senior end up playing in the Ryder Cup this fall?
The countdown is on. We are officially in the Ryder Cup home stretch.
With three more months of qualifying, every week brings an opportunity to campaign for a precious spot on either team. Last week Brooks Koepka made as strong of a statement as possible. But much quieter was the statement made by, say, Sepp Straka, whose T7 finish at the PGA provided a major boost to his chances of playing for the Europeans.
This year’s Ryder Cup sprint is layered with perhaps the trickiest assessment of players ever. On the American side, golfers who have joined the LIV tour are not necessarily ruled out of playing.
On the European side, however, LIV players are almost guaranteed to be excluded. This makes Luke Donald’s job of filling out his side a very interesting one. How far down the list does he want to look?
This isn’t a post telling you that Donald needs to give a hard look at a college senior right now. It’s more a soft alarm. That something could begin brewing later this summer, where we could see Swedish 23-year-old Ludvig Aberg contend for a spot on the European side.
Not sure who Aberg is? You’re forgiven. Just not for long. He’s the No. 1 amateur in the world, finishing up his collegiate career this month at Texas Tech. He just won his second-straight Ben Hogan Award, a feat that has only happened once before (Jon Rahm).
As the top-ranked player in the PGA Tour University program, he’ll immediately become a PGA Tour member for the rest of 2023 and all of 2024. That means, if he wants to, he’ll be able to enter a slew of PGA Tour events in the summer. The John Deere Classic, the 3M Open, the Rocket Mortgage Classic — these level of events will be at his disposal. As stated above, each of those is simply an opportunity. Could he make a splash just as the rest of the golf world focuses on the U.S. Open or Open Championship? It wouldn’t come as a complete shock.
If that seems fanciful, as though some college senior-turned-pro will be ready for the Ryder Cup pressure, we’re not going to suggest he’ll be ready. We just know that the numbers rarely lie. Aberg is not your typical college senior. He’s 23 years old, for starters. Or two-and-a-half years older than Tom Kim. He is not a 19-year-old completely fresh on the scene.
He’s also been playing fantastic golf as of late, making multiple cuts on the PGA Tour in March, headlined by a T24 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s a small sample size to date, but it’s been the kind of golf that gets noticed by analytics site DataGolf. Aberg is currently listed as the 13th-best available player on the European side. He’s ranked 80th in the DataGolf world ranking, higher than the likes of Thomas Detry, Danny Willett, Nicolai Hjogaard, and the aforementioned Sepp Straka.
Over the last three months, Aberg has averaged 1.1 true strokes gained, according to DataGolf, which analyzes performances on all tours and levels so that, say, a victory at the Italian Open can be compared to Aberg’s wins at the Big 12 Championship or the Norman, Oklahoma NCAA regional.
Aberg’s mark of 1.1 is greater than that of Adrian Meronk and Shane Lowry, two pros who will no doubt be part of the RC conversation. A deep look at the recent performances of European hopefuls shows a massive divide between the top seven players and the next crop. Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose have elevated themselves above the pack, leaving everyone else clamoring for the final five spots. There will be a surprise pick, we just don’t know who.
The fact that Aberg ranks so highly on DataGolf’s Ryder Cup page is a factor of the situation facing Donald and Team Europe. Not far down the list is 2021 European captain, Padraig Harrington, who continues to play some solid golf himself. Could Paddy snag a spot? It’s not completely outrageous.
The host course, Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, is bound to be set up for accuracy and not the bomb-and-gauge mentality that elevates so many American players. European pros like Aaron Rai or Jordan Smith or Yannik Paul are going to receive a very long look at being captain’s picks in Rome this fall…so why not Aberg, too?
It will all come down to what Donald and his assistant captains prioritize. We’re just here to provide the warning, prediction or current diagnosis of the team the Euros are set to build. They’ll consider experience, form, course fit, etc. But what does a 12th man really need to be? They need to be comfortable playing with anyone, sitting for a session or two and then gearing up for a singles match on Sunday. Anything beyond that is gravy.