Ryder Cup 2023

Ryder Cup-etology: The rise of Ludvig Van Slay-Thoven

September 03, 2023

Sweden's Ludvig Aberg poses with the trophy after winning the European Masters.


Before we get to the final European projections ahead of Luke Donald's selections on Monday, I have some unpleasant business to attend to. There comes a time in every writer's life to eat some crow. So, to get out in front of the heaping platefuls of crow that are about to be served to me, let me recap what I've said about young Swedish heart throb Ludvig Aberg in previous installments of this series:

Aug. 21: "Oh, and Ludvig Aberg, who everyone is mad at me for not including on these lists, is also playing! Maybe he wins and makes the team!"

Aug. 28: "As a side note, I've looked into my heart, and I refuse to take Ludvig Aberg's candidacy seriously. He's going to be a great player, and maybe he already is a great player, but he has two professional top-10s (one of which came at this weekend's Czech Masters). There's no way Donald chooses this guy. There's part of me that wants to believe, but in the end, I can't see this as anything but some sort of internet fantasy. In real life, this never happens, and if I'm wrong, you can embarrass me on Twitter. But I just can't talk myself into this being remotely possible."

Before Aug. 21, I didn't even mention him! Now, it would be easy for me to try to claim that Aberg is only making the team because he just won the Omega European Masters for his first professional win. But the fact is, word on the street had him definitively on the team as early as Friday this week, which means that even without this win, I completely whiffed on Aberg. (For the record, part of the charm of Cup-etology is that I'm operating source-free and just trying to guess based on history and data who will make the team, and this Aberg news is the first time I've been unable to avoid some inside dope.)

Here's why I missed on Aberg:

Despite the fact that he is clearly could be a world beater, there has simply never been a pick like this in Ryder Cup history, where the player in question had zero professional wins (before today) and hadn't even played in a major. It doesn't mean it's a bad pick; far from it, this is very forward-thinking. But the thing is, I didn't expect Donald and his vice captains to be that forward-thinking. The idea that they'd leave off someone like Nicolai Hojgaard, who had won in Italy, played well down that stretch, and owned an established professional resume, in favor of a future possible (likely?) superstar who was only starting to make his impact on the professional game … well, I just didn't think that would happen. It seemed like a fun thing to consider, and a fun thing to advocate for on Twitter, but in the real world, when the rubber met the road, I didn't think Donald could pull the trigger.

I was wrong. Even without this win, Aberg was on the team. And to me, it ushers in a sort of Moneyball era of the Ryder Cup, where status or form or lifetime achievements matter less than the cold, hard numbers. Aberg was simply judged a better player than his peers, and Donald was willing to take the political hit by selecting him over more established guys. We saw a little of this with the American picks, and not just this year—picking Scottie Scheffler as the final captain's pick in Whistling Straits was in a similar vein—but this is the most extreme version of it. It is truly a new day.

And now, with the mea culpas out of the way, let's get down to business. I'll remind the haters I went 12-for-12 (okay, 6-for-6) on the American side, and I intend to do the same for the Euros now.


Selection Format: The Europeans have two lists—the European Points and World Points. Three players qualify from each list, which means that for the first time Europe's captain will have six picks to fill out his roster, which he'll make a week from Monday, on Sept. 4. (Final standings here.)

Last week's European summary

The impregnable duo who would not be left out barring death and maybe not even then: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm
Currently qualified and definitely in: Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood
Won't qualify, obviously in: Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry
Newly off the bubble and in: Justin Rose
Qualified, probably in:
Robert MacIntyre
Good side of the bubble: Adrian Meronk, Alex Noren, Sepp Straka
Bad side of the bubble: Yannik Paul, Rasmus Hojgaard, Nicolai Hojgaard, Adrian Otaegui, Alex Fitzpatrick
Extremely bad side of the bubble: Victor Perez, Matt Wallace
Missed their chance: Guido Migliozzi, Seamus Power

What's Changed?

1. Aberg won. And he was almost certainly on regardless, unless a bubble boy like Nicolai Hojgaard or Yannik Paul literally won themselves. He got his first professional win by defeating not just those competitors, but major winner and soon-to-be Ryder Cup teammate Fitzpatrick, and he did it with a 64 under pressure. Time to eat crow—Ludwig's on.

2. Which raises the question: Who's off? It's not MacIntyre, who held on to the third and final European qualifying spot by the skin of his teeth over Paul and Adrian Meronk. He stamped his ticket, and one of the great mysteries of this qualifying process will be whether he would have been chosen if he lost that spot in the final week. I've heard conflicting things, and it was close—Paul and Meronk were hot on his heels, and it might be one of those questions we'll never be able to answer.

3. Meronk is also on the team, and that was probably never in doubt barring a disastrous final two weeks. Instead, he finished with a respectable T-13, and his profile—the man makes a metric ton of birdies—is perfectly suited for fourball, and he just won the Italian Open at Marco Simone. Among the marginal European contenders not named Aberg, he has the best case, and he'll make the team.


Nicolai Hojgaard hits a drive in the European Masters.

Stuart Franklin

4. I can't see dumping anyone from what I consider the American trio, either: Shane Lowry, Sepp Straka, or Justin Rose. It's been a feast-or-famine year for Straka, but he won at the John Deere, posted a T-2 at the Open, and not only made the Tour Championship, but finished T-6 by the 72-hole scores. Rose didn't make the Tour Championship, but his respectable finishes at the first two playoff events likely sealed the deal with a team who is going to be light on veteran leadership. (His missed cuts in Scotland and the Open made him legitimately vulnerable, though.) And Lowry ... well, Lowry had a solid early summer that segued into a pretty bad late summer, concluding with a missed cut at last week's Euro Tour event and an absence at the European Masters. On paper, he seems like the easiest player of all to cut, but he's also in tight with most of the captains, is popular with his teammates, and you can almost consider him your Rickie Fowler figure on the Euro side (except not nearly as good this year). He's got it locked.

5. All of which means that we have to say goodbye to Nicolai Hojgaard. He's going to be the downcast figure of the Euro side, the Keegan Bradley/Cam Young/Lucas Glover character all rolled into one. The boldest line on his resume is that he won at Marco Simone in 2021, and he was 3-0-1 at the Hero Cup (the Ryder Cup testing ground event pitting continental Europe vs. the UK and Ireland). He also finished on a heater, with a T-6 at the Scottish Open, T-23 at the Open, and then a third place and a T-5 in his last two European Tour events. Even as I'm writing this, I'm asking myself, "wait ... why is he not making the team over Lowry, especially if we're in the new Moneyball era?" But it's important to keep Paris 2019 in mind, when Thomas Bjorn picked four veteran players over a few eligible young guns, and it worked out. For Donald, Lowry just brings more to the table with his presence than Hojgaard.

6. Paul deserves a mention here. He needed to do something spectacular in his final chance, and he didn't, but he put together a solid two-year run, and if nothing else, merits a tip of the cap as the 14th man.

7. And a hat tip also to Alex Fitzpatrick for a ridiculous late push that nobody saw coming. I don't think he got especially close, but he made people take notice. Respect.

8. Oh, and hey, for whatever it's worth, Matt Fitzpatrick bumped Fleetwood as an automatic qualifier on World Points. (Spoiler: It's not worth much.)

With all that said, it's time to file the last predictions. Donald makes his choices Monday morning, and this is how they'll go:

Automatically qualified: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Robert MacIntyre, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick
Easy Captain's Picks: Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka, Justin Rose
Harder Captain's Picks: Ludvig Aberg, Adrian Meronk
Extremely Hard and Possibly Ill-Advised Captain's Pick: Shane Lowry
First Man Out: Nicolai Hojgaard
Second Man Out: Yannik Paul
Thundering Down the Stretch, But Still Very Out: Alex Fitzpatrick
Never Made the Final Push: Victor Perez, Matt Wallace, Adrian Otaegui, Rasmus Hojgaard, Guide Migliozzi, Seamus Power

Donald has the last say, and then it's on to Italy!