DUBAI, U.A.E. — There are many miles between Eslov in Sweden and Lubbock in Texas, 5,178 to be exact. And the two cities have little in common. Eslov’s population maxes out around 25,000, which represents maybe a tenth of the people who make their homes on the southern end of the High Plains. Historic castles are a feature of Eslov’s landscape. Lubbock is perhaps most notable as the birthplace of the late, great rock-n-roller Buddy Holly.
But the two do have one thing in common: Ludvig Aberg, the No. 1-ranked men’s amateur golfer in the world. Born in Eslov, the 23-year-old is close to completing a business marketing degree at Texas Tech, which has occupied the time in Lubbock that hasn’t been spent as a stand-out on the golf team.
That fact, and his position atop the PGA Tour University Velocity Global ranking of top college seniors, has taken Aberg even further afield this week. In what will be his fourth appearance in DP World Tour event, the winner of last year’s Ben Hogan Award as college player of the year is playing in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Club.
Just for the record, Dubai is 4,213 miles from Eslov. Which sounds like a lot until you realize the United Arab Emirate is all of 8,101 miles from Lubbock.
So Aberg gets around, along the way ticking many of the boxes those destined for the top of the game tend to achieve. Already, before he turns professional June 1 (immediately after the NCAA Championship at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale), his résumé is bulging with high attainment.
In 2019, two years before he would be runner-up in the European Amateur Championship, Aberg was part of the Swedish side that won the European Team Championship. A year later, stuck at home during the pandemic, he won twice on Sweden’s Nordic League, beating a host of DP World and Challenge Tour players.
“COVID wasn’t too bad in Sweden, at least in terms of how much golf we could play,” Aberg says. “I came home in March 2020 and played almost every day. By the time the Nordic League got going, I was ready to go. It was probably the first time I realized I was good enough to win events with pretty good players in the field. That’s important knowledge. You never really know for sure until you’ve done it. So for me to win was pretty cool. It was certainly a big boost to my confidence.”
Along the way there also have been appearances in other pro events, most notably the 2021 RSM Classic on the PGA Tour (where Aberg missed the cut).
“My game has improved hugely during my time in college,” he says. “The courses in America are harder, as is the competition. The players are better. I’ve been exposed to difficult courses and tough players. It would have been impossible to simulate that in Sweden. It’s a long winter. The courses are not in great shape much of the time, so it’s hard to work on your game. Plus, in Texas I’ve got an education.
“Let’s say I was a zero when I arrived in Lubbock,” he continues. “So I’m probably a six/seven now. I’ve grown as a player. I understand my game and I’m a smarter player now. The more golf I’ve played, the better I’ve become. I’ve learned and understand the game more. And playing with better players means I’ve been able to pick up a lot from them. Hopefully, I can keep doing that on tour.”
Which circuit he wants to be on is not in doubt. And the possibility of big opportunity beckons. Should he remain No. 1 in the Velocity Global Ranking—a program available only for graduating seniors—after the end of the 2022-23 season, he’ll earn a PGA Tour card for the remainder of the year with a projected 14 starts in 2023 starting with the RBC Canadian Open.
“Because of the PGA Tour University program it has been very beneficial for me to stay in school,” Aberg says. “Plan A is to stay in America. I enjoy being there. The best players are there. If I’m good enough, that is where I want to be. I’m open to anything, wherever opportunities come up, but my initial plan is to play in the States.”
All of which is for the future. More immediately, Aberg is a long way from home feeling right at home. While some amateurs look like, well, amateurs when they tee-up in tour events, the same cannot be said of Aberg. In practice Tuesday alongside England’s Matthew Jordan and Germany’s Nicolai Von Delleinghausen, Aberg (accompanied by his swing coach and his manager) looked every inch a pro both in demeanor and the quality of his game.
“This week will be a great test for me before I turn pro,” he says. “In the tournaments I’ve played in the past, I’ve been exposed to the next level. When I started college that was true, too. It was a step up for me. Now this is the next level again. I’ll see what the players are doing, while still playing my own game. I’m here to play golf and I want to make sure it is good golf.”
In particular, Aberg is focused on course management. “It’s impressive how the top guys get the ball round the course,” he says. “They do miss, but they tend to miss in the right spots. That isn’t always the case in college. I feel confident though. I feel like I belong here. And the closer I get to the lead this week the more I am going to find out about myself. Hopefully, I’ll be up there on Sunday.”
Hang on though. Even the most talented golfers endure disappointment along the way, and Aberg is no exception. Mention of the 2022 British Amateur at Royal Lytham provokes an immediate reaction involving a rolling of the eyes and a slight grimace. Three match-play wins from gaining a place in the Masters and the Open Championship, Aberg succumbed to eventual runner-up Sam Bairstow on the last green in the quarterfinal. It was a painful loss, one that resonates still.
“Losing at that stage sucked,” he says. “That was a hard defeat. I loved Royal Lytham but to end my week the way I did was not great. There was a funny hole in that last match though. We halved the par-5 seventh in 7. I don’t recall every detail, but it started with me driving into a bush. I made par with my second ball. I’m not sure exactly what he did, but it added up to seven too.”
All of which is the past. But the future is surely bright for this clearly talented individual. There are, inevitably, many more miles to travel. At 3 a.m. Monday Aberg will board a 16½-hour flight to Dallas (8,024 miles away). He will then spend four days in Lubbock (346 miles from Dallas) before flying to Hawaii for his first college event of 2023. That’s another 3,407 miles on a journey that, one suspects, is just getting ready to start.