Ludvig Aberg had a decision to make after his junior year at Texas Tech.
He had two options: return to Lubbock for his senior season or turn pro and take his chances without status on any major tour.
For the then-22-year-old Aberg, the choice was easy.
“Lubbock is my second home and I've spent more time there than I have any other place in the last couple of years,” Aberg told GolfChannel.com. “So obviously, love the people, love the coaches, love my teammates and you know anytime that I get back there, I feel home.”
At the time Aberg made his decision, he knew he would have a chance to factor in the PGA Tour U rankings in his final season under coach Greg Sands. What he – and everyone else – didn’t know was just how much PGA Tour U would evolve as he spent another year on campus.
After the 2022 national championship, the top five players in the PGA Tour U rankings were awarded with Korn Ferry Tour membership through the remainder of the season and were exempt into all open, full-field KFT events, beginning the week after college golf’s season wrapped up at Grayhawk. They were also exempt into the final stage of that year’s KFT Qualifying Tournament.
Not bad, right?
Still, it left no immediate path for the best player in college golf to head straight to the PGA Tour and didn’t reward the No. 1 player any differently than the guy who rounded out the top 5.
That changed in the fall when the Tour announced that the No. 1 player in PGA Tour U would be rewarded with a PGA Tour card and was further bolstered in early May when the Tour revealed that it is expanding that reward to include an extra full season of PGA Tour status. So, this year’s No. 1 player following the NCAA championship will earn a Tour card for the remainder of 2023 and 2024, playing out of the same category as the Korn Ferry Tour and DP World Tour points winners while being subject to reshuffles.
Because the No. 1 player would keep his PGA Tour status for the following year, that player would not need to compete in PGA Tour Q-School at the end of that first year.
“I think everyone jumped for joy when they saw it,” Aberg said. “I think it's going to be very, very beneficial for college golf in general. And I think it's just going to make it better. Because now there is an incentive to stay in school. There is, you know, a clear pathway to the PGA Tour through college, which is incredible. I think they've done a tremendous job.”
Coach Sands, who has watched Aberg transition from a talented young high-schooler in Helsingborg, Sweden, to arguably the best men's college golf has to offer, was thrilled for his star player and raved about how well his veteran leader has handled the pressure of holding that top spot.
“Well, it's amazing for college golf,” Sands said. “It's an unbelievable carrot at the end of the stick, if you will, a reward for two great years of playing golf. And really, I'm so happy he made a decision himself to stay here and knew that he would be leading that and just really played great all year handling the noise of the future and the noise of PGA Tour U and so you couldn't ask for more professionalism. He just handled it amazing.”
To say Aberg has handled the pressure well would be an understatement. Texas Tech’s leader has elevated his play down the stretch of his final collegiate season to a level that has left no doubt as to which player is deserving of an immediate ascension to the Tour.
In three starts leading up to the national championship at Grayhawk, Aberg hasn’t been beaten.
His run started in Hutchinson, Kansas, where he defended his Big 12 Championship at Prairie Dunes with a resounding eight-shot victory.
He followed that performance with a one-shot victory in Odessa, Texas, at local U.S. Open qualifying, which preceded NCAA regionals, where Aberg hit towering fade after towering fade at Jimmie Austin in Norman, Oklahoma, to eclipse a pair of Sooners on their home course and lead his team back to Grayhawk.
Oklahoma coach Ryan Hybl has gotten a close look at Aberg the past couple seasons and raved about the Red Raider’s talent and mindset on the golf course.
“He hits the ball as good as anybody. His putter is as good as anybody. His chipping is as good as anybody. And he acts like a 35-year-old man out there,” Hybl said. “So I would say overall, he's kind of got all the pieces. Almost the Megatron of who you would want, that's kind of what he looks like.
“And he's just easy going on the golf course, which I think it makes it fun to watch him play, too. Kind of reminds you a little bit of Ernie Els. The game just does not look very hard. I don't know how else to describe it, but it's very impressive.”
Aberg had a 74-point lead over North Carolina’s Austin Greaser in the PGA Tour U standings on February 1st. His lead is now more than 260 points heading into the national championship, which is larger than the gap from No. 2 to No. 21.
As if Aberg wasn't playing well enough heading into his final collegiate event, he shot a 13-under 59 two days before the national championship.
He's certainly making the most of his last days before turning pro. Aberg received the Ben Hogan Award Monday for the second consecutive season, becoming the second player to win the award in back-to-back seasons. The other guy? Jon Rahm.
The late-season success has the Swede itching to tee it up one final time at Grayhawk.
“I can't wait, to be honest,” Aberg said. “That's what we play for, the championships. I would love to get a national championship, both individually and as a team. So hopefully, you know, in terms of preparation, very similar to any tournament that you play. You just try to keep to your game plan, and yeah, I can't wait.”
If Aberg can back up his Big 12 and NCAA regional victories with an individual national championship, he’ll not only have a Tour card through 2024, he’ll also be exempt into the 2023 U.S. Open and the 2024 Masters, giving him even more opportunities to kickstart his professional career.
Exemptions into those two majors for the NCAA champ were announced earlier this year, and coach Hybl loves the recognition top college players are receiving from the professional ranks.
“I always think it's phenomenal when our guys continue to get noticed as being the next elite players in the game of golf,” Hybl said. “So I think it's a special moment for the college game. You know, we've argued over the years how many different opportunities maybe our guys should be getting and it's starting to happen … So it's just, it's very deserving. These are the next generation of great golfers.”
As exciting as the future is for Aberg, it means the end of a collegiate career that has seen him grow from a talented prospect to a budding star.
It means moving on from his “second home” and transitioning to the life of a professional.
Aberg tried to put into words the emotion of “lasts”: his last Big 12 Championship, his last regional and now, his last NCAA championship, all while finishing out his degree and preparing for the next stage in life.
“It's a little tricky,” Aberg said. “I want to say, though, that I was a bit overwhelmed, I'm not gonna lie, because there is a lot going on. And at the same time, I want to get my school pretty good as well. I wanted to get a degree. That's one of the reasons why I came to college because I wanted to get my education done. So there is a lot to balance.
"Hopefully I'll be able to come back and hopefully they'll welcome me back as well in the next few years. And you know, Coach Sands has helped me, he's given me so many opportunities to be able to be in the position I am and I'm beyond thankful for that. Hopefully we'll win a national championship to finish my career as well.”
National championship or not, it’s safe to say Aberg will be welcome in Lubbock any time.