The recent Texas Tech graduate and former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world showed exactly why on Thursday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The 23-year-old hit every fairway and missed just one green in the opening round at Detroit Golf Club on his way to a sparkling 65.
What’s even more remarkable is that Aberg had it to nine under before bogeying his final two holes, including missing his lone green in regulation at the 8th (his 17th).
According to stat guru Justin Ray, Aberg’s round of 14 fairways and 17 greens while averaging over 300 yards off the tee Thursday was just the second on the PGA Tour this season. The first was Jon Rahm in the opening round of the Masters.
Unsurprisingly, Aberg is leading the Rocket Mortgage in strokes gained: off-the-tee through two rounds and enters the third round just a shot off the lead. This is just his third start since becoming the first player to accept instant PGA Tour membership by finishing first in the PGA Tour University program.
He played well in his first two starts at the RBC Canadian Open and the Travelers Championship last week, recording top-25s in both. Still, this weekend will be his first shot in legitimate contention since turning professional.
“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,” Aberg said Friday. “I’m looking forward to having those same nerves here, which is going to be a little bit different, but I also think just being OK that it is a little bit different is going to help me a little bit.
“At the end of the day I know what I’m capable of and I know that I can hit the golf shots, 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.”
But perhaps looking further ahead than this weekend, Aberg’s stellar performance had a very important on-looker: European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald.
According to Golf Channel, Donald asked to be paired in the opening two rounds with the big-hitting Swede in an attempt to scout him for one of his six captain’s picks for this year’s matches in Rome. And while it may seem outlandish to many still unfamiliar with Aberg to consider a player with just three pro starts and no major appearances for the Ryder Cup, it’s really not far from reality.
The Analytics website DataGolf currently ranks Aberg as the 12th best European player in professional golf and 11th when you remove LIV golfers who will likely be ineligible on the European side at Marco Simone. The site takes into account Aberg’s performances in college events as well as his starts as an amateur on the PGA Tour. In the overall ranking, he currently places ahead of recent PGA tour winner Seamus Power and a member of last year’s Presidents Cup International team, Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Aberg recently took up an affiliate membership with the DP World Tour, thus making him eligible for the European side.
Not only that, but he certainly made a strong first impression on the former World No. 1 Donald.
In texts to Golf Channel’s Nick Dougherty, Donald said there were only a few other players who had the same “wow” factor when he first saw them. One of them was Rory McIlroy when Donald first played with him at the 2008 Dunhill Links Championship.
“Now he says Ludvig Aberg is one of those guys as well,” Dougherty said of his conversation with Donald. “He said his driver is a huge weapon, he makes the game look effortless. He added that as long as he continues to show form, he will definitely be considered for the [Ryder Cup] team … This guy is going to be a superstar.”
Thanks to his play putting him in the penultimate pairing on Saturday, Aberg gets the chance to meet another PGA Tour star, Rickie Fowler.
Once again, he nailed the first impression by birdieing the first hole of his third round.