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Column: From Lubbock to sudden stardom, Swedish star Aberg not easily distracted. Even by LIV

By The Associated Press
Posted 7:46AM on Tuesday 21st November 2023 ( 3 months ago )

So much feels like so long ago for Ludvig Aberg.

“Everything is a long way from Lubbock,” Aberg playfully replied Sunday after winning at Sea Island. The question was more about time than distance, though they apply equally.

Texas Tech failed to reach match play in the NCAA Championship on May 29, and that meant the end of Aberg's brilliant college career. His consolation was being the overwhelming No. 1 player in the PGA Tour University ranking. For the first time, that came with a PGA Tour card.

Everyone could see the the efficient swing, the purpose in his putting stroke, the remarkable poise. He joined Jon Rahm as the only back-to-back winner of the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's best college player. How that translated to the highest level of golf was still to be determined. In his pro debut, Aberg missed U.S. Open qualifying by two shots.

That also seems like a long time ago.

In June, Aberg played with European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, leaving quite the impression by hitting every fairway and all but one green in a round of 65. In July, he tied for fourth in the John Deere Classic. The last week in August, Rory McIlroy already was dropping his name as a potential Ryder Cup rookie.

“We know he’s going to be on the Ryder Cup for the next 15 years,” McIlroy said. “Would you rather give him a chance in Rome or throw him into the fire at Bethpage?”

Aberg tied for fourth in the Czech Masters that week. He won in Switzerland the first weekend in September. Donald picked him for Europe's team and no one was surprised, only amazed that Aberg would be the first to play in a Ryder Cup without ever having played in a major.

He went 2-2 at Marco Simone, flew the next day to Mississippi and lost in a five-man playoff at the Sanderson Farms Championship. And at the RSM Classic on Sunday, the last PGA Tour event of the season, he tied the 72-hole tour record of 253 and broke the record for the last 36 holes by going 61-61 on the weekend.

So maybe, as Mac Davis famously sung, happiness is Lubbock, Texas, in his rearview mirror. Except the polished and polite Swede with his strapping 6-foot-3 frame, sweet smile and killer instinct wouldn't trade his time at Texas Tech.

“Once I did my visit, I fell in love with it,” Aberg said. “I still call it my second home.”

He still lives in Lubbock, though he has told fellow Swede and good friend Vincent Norrman he would take up one of his guest rooms in Tallahassee, Florida. Neither resemble Aberg's real home of Eslov, a town of about 20,000 in southern Sweden.

Regardless of where he is, there is purpose. That's what stood out to Texas Tech coach Greg Sands, who was at Marco Simone and at Sea Island for Aberg's first PGA Tour title.

“Everybody falls in love with the physical side of things, and all those things visually you get to see up close,” Sands said when Aberg was picked for the Ryder Cup. “To me, it’s his ability to compartmentalize a moment. He keeps things simple. He doesn’t let distractions get him off.”

That includes LIV Golf.

Aberg told Swedish newspaper Expressen about the spring day in 2022 when he noticed a man at one of his tournaments, dressed differently enough that it was clear he was there as more than a spectator.

He said the man was a representative for Saudi-funded LIV who later reached out to Sands to make Aberg an offer. Expressen originally reported the offer was $15 million. In an interview in February this year with SVT Sport in Sweden, Aberg said it was $2.5 million for two years, or a $100,000 fee for playing the first three or four LIV events in the inaugural season.

That was a distraction. Aberg kept it simple.

"Red flags, this is not good,” he told SVT Sport. “We understood that potentially I could burn a lot of bridges and I was not interested in doing that.”

His goal all along was to play on the PGA Tour and European tour (he already has won on both), to play in the majors (he'll finally get there in April at the Masters) and the Ryder Cup (he played his first one just four months after turning pro).

LIV picked up two college players — Eugenio Chacarra (Oklahoma State) and David Puig (Arizona State), along with U.S. Amateur champion James Piot, who already has been relegated out of the rival league after two years.

Chacarra, with a LIV win, has made $10.2 million in two years. Puig has made $4.3 million. Aberg already has over $3.8 million in six months, along with access to the majors and the Ryder Cup. So when asked if he had any regrets, there was no hesitation.

“No, not for a second, actually,” he said. “The most important thing for me is to feel good. ... In five or 10 years, I don't want to look back on this and have regrets. In my head, it really isn't the right way to compete and play."

The interview with STV Sport took place four months before he turned pro.

“It's clear that I have never seen these sums of money before so it’s obvious that you raise some eyebrows a little,” he said. “It is life-changing money, but I still want to believe that a good player can still get by. You come out on the PGA Tour and compete.”

That's exactly what he has done in such a short time that objects in his rearview mirror, like Lubbock, seem a lot farther away than they really are.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas in Sundsvall, Sweden, contributed to this report.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

Ludvig Aberg, of Sweden, watches his drive off the seventh tee during the final round of the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Ludvig Åberg, of Sweden, holds the trophy after the final round of the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Ludvig Åberg, of Sweden, reacts after his putt on the 18th green during the final round of the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Ludvig Åberg, of Sweden, reacts after his putt on the 18th green during the final round of the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Ludvig Åberg, of Sweden, hits out of a bunker on the 16th green during the final round of the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Ludvig Åberg, of Sweden, right, shakes hands with Mackenzie Hughes, left, after finishing on the 18th green during the final round of the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

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