On a remarkable day of golf under a blazing Italian sun, a beautiful scene unfolded towards the end of the morning amid a feast of beautiful scenes on the edge of the 15th green, high on the course, near the point where you can look down on the Eternal City in the distance and catching a glimpse of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
All kinds of history was made and all kinds of records were broken at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club when Europe put the US to the sword on the first day of the Ryder Cup, but if you wanted a symbol of the magic that flowed through it the team, there was no better place to appreciate this than here.
Ludvig Aberg, the 23-year-old prodigy selected to play in the competition even though he only turned pro a few months ago, had just won his first Ryder Cup point in his first match, teaming with Viktor Hovland in an emphatic four and three foursomes victories over world No. 7 Max Homa and Open champion Brian Harman.
Aberg, jokingly called ‘The Stud’ by his teammates because of his icy good looks, had done a few greenside interviews and was walking away to watch another match when he became aware of someone trying to get his attention. few meters away. It was Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic, the greatest tennis player who ever lived and one of the greatest athletes of all time, had been watching Aberg’s match for a few hours. He chose this match over the others because all the talk about Aberg as the next great golfer also captured his imagination.
Ludvig Aberg is Europe’s 23-year-old prodigy taking the 4th edition of the Ryder Cup by storm
Aberg was selected to play in the league even though he only turned pro a few months ago
Due to his icy appearance, Aberg has been nicknamed ‘The Stud’ by his European teammates
So he beckoned Aberg over and a smile crept across Aberg’s serious face and the two men shared a hug. Game recognizes game, they say, and Djokovic, a keen golfer, looked a bit starstruck, which doesn’t happen often. The 24-time Grand Slam singles champion said a few words of congratulations to the young Swede and then watched him return to the clubhouse.
Hovland, 26, was the best player of a gilded day. He bookended his surge with critical shots at the beginning and end of his rounds and established himself as one of the leaders of this European team.
But there was something intoxicating about following Aberg on Friday, something wrapped in the anticipation that we were watching the first major milestone in what could be a great career, and that he had negotiated it with aplomb.
It also felt like Aberg’s performance and the fact that captain Luke Donald chose to give him such a prominent role on the first morning – before resting him for the fourballs – put him at the heart of this new European team and his great Italian Renaissance.
Donald has spoken several times about Europe as a team in transition, a team stripped of senior players such as Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia and embracing a new generation of stars.
No one personifies that brave new world better than Aberg, who became the first male golfer to be selected for a Ryder Cup without ever playing in a major championship. He helped set the tone for Europe’s first ever clean run of wins on the first morning of the competition.
Aberg was not without fault. That would even have asked too much of him. It was clear in the first few holes that he was suffering from nerves and there were a few occasions when he needed Hovland, who was playing brilliantly, to clear up behind him.
That started on the first green when the Norwegian played a brilliant chip-and-run that climbed a bank just fast enough to crawl over the top and then trickled relentlessly into the hole.
Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic followed Aberg during his opening round and was left impressed by the youngster
Aberg is closely followed at the Ryder Cup and has built a reputation as golf’s next rising superstar
But it didn’t take long for Aberg to settle down and soon he was driving down the middle of the fairways and finding his range on the green.
On the fourth he almost chipped from the Rough to the hole, but the ball danced around the lip and stayed out. He corrected that on the sixth by draining a 10-foot putt, putting him and Hovland up by two.
Aberg dropped another birdie on the ninth to put Europe up three, and on the eleventh he hit such a fine wedge shot to within five feet of the hole that Djokovic turned to a friend from his vantage point in awe and applauded what he did. he had just witnessed it.
By now Aberg was driving imperiously. Experts and fellow players talk about the sweet sound the ball makes with his clubs and how he finished his drives twenty to thirty yards beyond Harman’s. “It makes it a lot easier when you finish off his drives,” Hovland said later.
Aberg (far right) teamed up with Viktor Hovland (center right) for an opening morning foursome with Max Homa (far left) and Brian Harman (center left)
Hovland admitted after the morning round: ‘Golf is easy when you play with The Stud’
On the 14th, a downhill hole, he hit another beautiful drive that clipped the dog-leg, flew over some trees and a bunker to land on a narrow stretch of fairway well beyond the American pair. Hovland came close, Aberg sank the putt and the Europeans led by four with four to play.
Hovland finished things off on the 15th when his bunker shot crept to within a few feet of the pin and the Americans conceded.
Aberg, who had kept his emotions in check until that moment, raised his right arm in the air and twirled it around and around, urging the crowd to turn up the volume even more.
As they talked to the cameras afterward, sweat poured down Hovland’s face and stained his shirt. Aberg didn’t have a drop of sweat on him. “Golf is easy when you play at The Stud,” Hovland said. ‘Don’t be fooled by his inexperience. He can take on anyone.”