The climb to the top: College golf's two-time player of year eyes future on PGA Tour
The first several times Ludvig Aberg went to a golf course, trying to make a birdie wasn't the attraction, much less the potential for fame and fortune.
He stuck it out for the post-round treat.
"I think one of the earliest memories that I had was from my dad," the Texas Tech golf star said earlier this month. "Me and my dad went out and played golf at my home club, and I didn't really like it at first, so he would always bribe me and tell me that if I stayed for another hour, I'd get ice cream or something like that."
The love of the ice cream stuck. Aberg will gladly come along if anyone wants to go for his favorite, cookies and cream. Somewhere along the way, he started loving the links too, coming to the realization he had more of a future in golf than in his first and enduring love, soccer.
That turned out to be a good call. This week, the Texas Tech senior, for the second year in a row, won the Ben Hogan Award as the player of the year in college golf. He's a finalist for two similar honors: The Fred Haskins Award and the Jack Nicklaus Award.
With Aberg leading the lineup, Tech is one of 30 teams that start play Friday in the NCAA championship tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona.
It's an end and a beginning for the 23-year-old from Eslov, Sweden. As soon as he holes out for the last time at Grayhawk Golf Club, Aberg will turn pro and likely be on the PGA Tour for at least the next year and a half.
He's No. 1 on the PGA Tour University points list, and the golfer who holds that spot at the end of the college season earns full status on the PGA Tour through the end of 2024. The RBC Canadian Open, scheduled for June 8-11, is the first event for which the PGA Tour U winner will be eligible to play.
At PGA Tour U's inception in the fall of 2020, the top five four-year players on the points list after the NCAA championship would receive their cards for the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA Tour's top minor league. The winner getting a PGA Tour card is a new perk this year.
"It's an incredible opportunity, unprecedented stuff," Tech coach Greg Sands said. "It's the first time they've ever done that."
Sands marvels that Aberg began the year No. 1 on the PGA Tour U ranking and, rather than wilt under the pressure, finished among the 10 in all nine of his tournaments. The 6-foot-3 Swede won four events, including the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA Norman Regional, becoming the only player in NCAA Division I this year to be a conference and regional medalist.
"The pressure of him playing a full season knowing that he has that spot, but he could give it up if he doesn't play well ... ," Sands said. "That's just an extraordinary person to know that you're number one, have to play with that on the line all year, and then not only play well but extend that lead, he's a special player. His mind is elite, just as much as his skills are."
Not that easy
As smoothly as Ludvig Aberg plays golf and as smoothly as he delivered his Hogan Award acceptance speech Monday night at Colonial Country Club, one might surmise everything comes easily for him.
Think again. The Red Raiders' senior is 5,000 miles from home, trying to sharpen his English along with his game and trying to meet expectations that come at him from all directions. Maybe he handles it with aplomb now. That wasn't always the case.
"It was difficult," he said, "not only speaking a different language — English is my second language — and then so many new faces and new people. You're trying to impress the coaches. You're trying to impress the teammates. It's just a lot that goes into it."
In Sweden, Aberg said he and the other schoolchildren started learning English around age 7 or 8. To make a second language second nature, though, one might need to be immersed in it on a daily basis.
Aberg is the latest in a long line of good players Sands has signed from Sweden over the past couple of decades, chief among them all-Americans Oscar and Nils Floren, 2018 Big 12 player of the year Fredrik Nilehn, all-region honorees Hannes Ronneblad and Markus Braadlie and clutch NCAA postseason performer Adam Blomme.
Two years ago, Aberg said Blomme and Nilehn "are the guys that kind of talked me into going here and told me what a great program this is."
To help his acclimation upon his arrival at Texas Tech, Aberg lived with Americans, and not just Americans — Texans. As a freshman, he roomed with Garrett Martin from San Antonio Johnson and Jansen Smith from San Angelo Central. Martin is still his Tech teammate. Smith transferred to Arkansas-Little Rock, this season earning recognition as the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year and a top-30 finisher at a regional hosted by Michigan State.
"I lived with Americans for my first couple of years here," Aberg said, "and literally what they said, I tried to just emulate that and copy it and say what they said, just to try and pick up some things here and there.
"Obviously, it's a lot easier when you've been here for a few years. It was difficult at first. There were certain conversations that I couldn't really have, because I didn't really know what to say, but it's been easier now, and obviously I feel comfortable with it."
Choosing a course of action
Eslov is a city of about 20,000 people, about the same size as the West Texas town of Plainview. Aberg's home course in Eslov was good training ground for his future in golf, and he still plays there on trips back to Sweden.
"It's a shortish golf course," he said. "It's a little bit tricky. It's not very similar to the American golf courses, because I feel like here, you just try to hit it as hard and as high as you can.
"Back home, it's more trying to go around the trees and curve it a little bit more. You've got to launch a driver over the tree. You draw it around a bush or something like that, so it's a little bit more shot-shaping and a little bit more placement."
To become as good a golfer as he could be, though, and to open up every possible opportunity, Aberg thought coming to the U.S. was the right play.
Aberg believes the best players in the world "come through college," so choosing to play for a program in the U.S. was, in his mind, a no-brainer. Besides growing his golf game, he said he's grown and matured as a person, conquering the homesickness and the language barrier.
He also learned he could be a special player.
In addition to winning the Ben Hogan Award, Aberg is a finalist for two similar awards that go to college golf's top player: the Fred Haskins Award and the Jack Nicklaus Award.
"I had been exposed to good players before, but not at this level," he said, "and that's when I felt like I can not only compete with them; I can actually beat them as well.
"That's why I feel like college golf is such a good springboard, because it takes you and exposes you to tough golf courses, good competition and that's where I feel like everyone should go if you want to become good at golf.
"Obviously, Texas Tech has been tremendous for me and for my career and my family, so I'm super fortunate to be in this position, and hopefully I'll be able to keep it up as well."
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: The climb to the top: Twice college golf's player of year, Texas Tech's Ludvig Aberg eyes future on PGA Tour