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Beware the rookie

Masters 2024: Rookies can’t win at Augusta?!? Ludvig Aberg can't wait to prove you wrong

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J.D. Cuban

April 13, 2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s a fact that no player who has ever been victorious on the Nordic Golf League has won any of the first 87 Masters Tournaments. No surprise really. But that obscure statistic might be about to change. Yes, three formidable competitors in the shape of Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and Max Homa will begin the final round Sunday at Augusta National with a three-, two- and one-stroke advantage, respectively, over Ludvig Aberg. But not much has proved to be beyond the 23-year-old Swede in the still less than a year he has played professional golf.

Then again, should Aberg prevail in what is not only his maiden Masters appearance but his first start in any of the four men’s major championships, it would clearly go right to the top of the already impressive list of achievements he has quickly checked off his "to-do" list.

(For the record: Tournament wins on both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour? Tick. Ryder Cup debut? Tick. Top-10 ranked player in the world? Tick.)

There is also a statistical reason for Aberg to be encouraged as he prepares for his now fourth competitive trip around Augusta National. The looming figure of World No. 1 Scheffler has to be overcome, but during two days of almost constant wind, Aberg (69-70) has outscored the leader (72-71) by four shots. Momentum, if that often-elusive quality is capable of overnight survival, belongs to the Swede, who played his college golf at Texas Tech in the ever-breezy city of Lubbock.

“Obviously we played in a lot of wind in Lubbock and the last two days here have been the same,” Aberg said. “I'm not sure if that really translates, but I guess I'm a little bit more used to it.”

Still, there is no question that the psychological aspect of what lies ahead on Masters Sunday will weigh heaviest on the former top-ranked amateur’s so far sturdy shoulders. Asked how he has kept the magnitude of it all at bay mentally—no Masters rookie has put on a green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979—Aberg acknowledged its presence end even claimed to be embracing it all.

“I think about it all the time,” he says. “I'm OK thinking about it. Obviously, I'm a competitor and I want to win tournaments. I feel very fortunate to be in this position and to be here playing golf. I don't think you should shy away from it. I don't think you should try to push it away. I try to embrace it, and I try to be okay with all that comes with it.

“Tomorrow I’ll keep an eye on the leaderboard and see where we're at,” he continued. “You can't really play Augusta in a different way even though you have to. You're never trying to force anything. You're always trying to put yourself in the right positions and trying to make the putts. That's what I’m going to try to do tomorrow, even if I’m tied for the lead or two back or four back.”

Aberg is, of course, correct to preach caution. Like every other golfer in the long history of the game, success has never quite overwhelmed the odd failure. A quarterfinal loss in the 2022 British Amateur at Royal Lytham continues to be a source of regret.

“Losing at that stage sucked,” Aberg said. “That was a hard defeat. I loved Royal Lytham but to end my week the way I did was not great.”

And there’s more. Even the former college player of the year’s aforementioned stampede to the upper reaches of the professional game has not been without negative incident.

Two shots clear of the field in last year’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth—the DP World Tour’s flagship event—Aberg stumbled to a closing 76 and an eventual T-10 finish. But the two-time Nordic League champion has always been a keen student eager to learn. Speaking before making his fourth DP World Tour start (as an amateur) in last year’s Dubai Desert Classic, he made that clear.

“This week will be a great test for me before I turn pro,” he said then. “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. But course management is the big thing I’ll be watching. It’s impressive how the top guys get the ball round the course. They do miss, but they tend to miss in the right spots. That isn’t always the case in college.”

All of which sounds like pretty good advice going into the final round of the Masters with a chance to win. Aberg is well aware of what to look for in his own behavior and will make time to smell the metaphorical flowers 11-time major champion Walter Hagen was so fond of sniffing.

“Whenever I get stressed, I get a little bit quick at times,” Aberg said. “It happens in my golf swing. It happens the way I walk, the way I talk, and all these things. I just try to manage it the best I can and be okay with those things, I guess. One of the coolest things here is the really long shadows you see. Walking down No. 10 and walking up 18 you see those really long shadows. It's really cool to experience that and see them firsthand.”

OK, so everything seems to be pretty much in place. Which makes sense. On the course, the typically stoic Aberg never looks to be anything other than well prepared and organized. All that is left now is the really tough stuff like executing in the vital moments. And beating those other guys, of course.

Tick.

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