Smiling assassin Ludvig Aberg proves he is the future of European golf

Aberg holds up a golf ball
Aberg's relaxed demeanour bodes well for his future at the top of the game - REUTERS/Mike Segar

Ludvig Aberg was a picture of nonchalance as he strode to the 10th tee, so insouciant about his share of the Masters lead that he high-fived a few spectators en route. Unfortunately, amid all this bonhomie, he had his energy bar knocked out of his hand, and his final round was never quite the same again. Just 15 minutes later, playing the treacherous approach to the 11th that invites you to flirt with Rae’s Creek, the Swede overcooked his favourite draw and watched his hopes of becoming only the second player to win the Masters on debut meet a watery end.

He smiled at the fateful misjudgment. Aberg is not given to theatrical self-reproach, preferring to take his punishment and wipe any errors from his mind. But it was tempting to imagine how differently the 24-year-old’s remarkable rookie performance could have turned out without this one brain fade. He would have been hard pressed, ultimately, to reel in the indomitable Scottie Scheffler. But for the few thrilling moments that he stood at the summit, it was tempting to believe anything was possible.

There is no doubt, based on the past four days, that Aberg represents the future of European golf. He is the epitome of laconic Scandinavian cool, smiling through the setbacks and walking between holes with his hands in his pockets. It is the attitude of somebody who, on the course at least, has seldom had to battle adversity. The transition to the professional ranks can be a traumatic one: think back to Justin Rose, who marked the switch with 21 consecutive missed cuts. Aberg, by contrast, began life as a pro last year by finishing in the top 25 on six of eight occasions, winning the European Masters and becoming the first player ever to compete at a Ryder Cup without playing in a major.

It is this background that makes his breakthrough at Augusta so astounding. Much was made of Aberg’s credentials, as the world No 9, to be the first debutant since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to achieve Masters glory. But Zoeller had played five other majors prior to his most celebrated victory. Aberg, by contrast, had never inhabited such an exalted stage in his life. He dealt with the step up in his signature manner: stylishly, smoothly, and without fuss.

Rarely has golf yielded a player who looks so psychologically suited to the greatest challenges. At the Ryder Cup in Rome, he could easily have been a spare part, but instead partnered with Viktor Hovland to deliver a historic 9&7 beatdown to Brooks Koepka and Scheffler. As the sun set over Georgia, there was to be no denying Scheffler this time, but the youngster still surpassed every expectation. He attributes it all to his mindset of embracing pressure, refusing to let the magnitude of the moment overwhelm him.

Aberg has especially relished the challenge of the wind this week. While a succession of great golfers have been blown off course by the swirling breeze, Aberg has adjusted seamlessly, explaining that he had to contend with similar conditions during his university days in Lubbock, Texas. It has scarcely been a year since he graduated from Texas Tech, or since he was challenging for the national collegiate championship. In the months since, he has been exposed to the greatest privileges the game has to offer and grasped them all with gusto.

Rory McIlroy, who knows a little about youthful precocity, could not help but be impressed. Finishing 11 shots behind Aberg, he said: “He gets the win in Europe, he gets the win in the States, he plays in his first Masters, and he contends on the back nine on Sunday. He has proved at every stage that he belongs.”

How the crowd adored him. Even as he endured a torrid last journey up the 18th, zig-zagging from bunker to bunker, he was cheered rapturously. But for the brilliance of Scheffler, these might have been the sounds of an improbable coronation. Except Aberg did not look unduly perturbed by if-onlys. As he made par on the 18th, a hole that he needed to birdie to stand the faintest chance, he broke into the broadest smile. It is the type of outlook that should take him far.

Walking off the last, he fell into the embrace of his parents, Mia and Johan. These were not scenes of sorrowful consolation but of triumph. Aberg could not just stop grinning. He had shown that he was made for the Masters with his blend of technical precision and icy temperament. It will be his time before long, and he knows it. The European game has had a long search for its next true icon, but in Aberg, it has unearthed its most compelling candidate yet.

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