Luke Donald, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, has compared the “special” talent of Ludvig Åberg to that of an emerging Rory McIlroy after selecting the 23-year-old Swede as a wildcard for the meeting with the US team in Rome.
Åberg’s name stands out among Donald’s half-dozen choices – Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, Sepp Straka, Nicolai Højgaard and Justin Rose complete the list – given he turned professional in June. The former world No 1 amateur won the European Masters in Switzerland on Sunday, which sealed his spot in the mind of Donald.
Questioned on the level of Åberg’s ability, Donald reflected on playing alongside him in Detroit in early July. Åberg opened that event with rounds of 65 and 67. “Rory obviously back in 2006, 2007, whenever I played with him and he was breaking out, I thought: ‘Man, this kid is special,’” Donald said. “Ludvig fits in that. First tee shot, it’s a tricky par four with a dogleg left. He just hits it absolutely on a string at the right line. It just kept on going from there, that whole round. It’s not easy.
“I’ve played with a lot of contenders over the last six to 12 months and some haven’t played that well with me looking at them but he didn’t have any problem. Everyone who has played with Ludvig sees a very bright future.
“His temperament is obviously part of the reason he is so successful. He is obviously an amazing driver of the golf ball. I was so impressed when I played with him in Detroit. He was a cool nine under through 16 holes like it was nothing. He just went about his business. He was calm, collected. He made everything look very simple. He plays with good speed. Doesn’t overcomplicate it. Him and his caddie seem to have a good thing going and he hits a lot of quality shots. I could tell straight away that good things were going to happen to this kid.”
As Åberg declared himself “up for the challenge”, Donald said: “He is going to be the only one outside of Sergio [García] to play a Ryder Cup the same year he turned pro. Those are high standards to live up to. But everyone that’s played with him, everyone that’s been around him, is super impressed with his game and what he brings.”
Donald revealed he called in the region of 17 players whom he thought narrowly missed out on European selection. Poland’s Adrian Meronk, who won the Italian Open at the Ryder Cup venue in May, is likely to feel the most wounded about not receiving a pick. “He absolutely did a lot of great stuff throughout the year and was very much on my mind,” Donald said of Meronk. “But there were other players, too, that legitimately could have been there.
“In the end I’m very happy with Nicolai, very happy with Ludvig, very happy with all the six picks to be honest that make up this 12. Those are tough decisions and that comes with every Ryder Cup.”
McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Robert MacIntyre had earlier sealed automatic European spots.
At the previous meeting of the US and Europe the hosts triumphed by a record margin, 19-9 at Whistling Straits. The US have not won on European soil since 1993 but Donald believes his team is the one that has to upset the odds.
“I do think they are favourites. Certainly judging on the result from the last Ryder Cup. It was not close. They have a lot of those guys coming back. They are strong. They have great partnerships that have been tried and tested. But at the same time; we are underdogs and we will be betting underdogs, I have full faith in my team and I feel like we have a great opportunity to win.
“I’m confident we have 12 really fearless golfers that are on a mission to write their own history in the game and their legacy. Certainly I couldn’t be happier with the 12 I have but just to obviously disregard the Americans would be foolish. They are going to be very, very strong.”