Nikolaj Hojgaard of Denmark kisses the DP World Tour championship winner's trophy. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
Confidence is running high on the DP World Tour as the stunning rise of European youth convinces Luke Donald to remain Ryder Cup captain as prodigious newcomers Nikolaj Hojgaard and Ludwig Aberg won on Sunday on both sides of the Atlantic.
Hojgaard, the 22-year-old Dane who became Europe's youngest wildcard in 26 years after impressing in September's win over the United States, clinically hit five in a row in the final stretch of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship before parrying. 18th place, winning the $3 million first prize.
The cast it captivated in its remarkable climax summed up its biggest success to date. Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and Matt Wallace were tied for second, two shots back. This garlanded trio simply couldn't live with Højgaard's 64 players for a total of 21 under.
Watching this happen in his Florida home, Donald was stunned. “What a win for Nico on one of the strongest fields in Europe and against some of the best players in the world,” he wrote on social media.
Later, Aberg, a Swede whose potential is so huge, Donald picked him after just 10 tournaments as a professional, blew everyone away at the RSM Classic in Georgia and won his first PGA Tour title.
A freakish 61-61 weekend at Sea Island gave the 24-year-old his second win in the paid rankings – after winning the DP World Tour in Switzerland – and guarantees Aberg his major debut at the Masters in April.
< p>“The future of European golf looks bright,” said Donald.
Ludwig Aberg wins the RSM Classic. Photo: Alex Slitz/Getty Images
So bright that Europe will have a chance to retain the Ryder Cup in New York in 2025? This is a difficult question. By that time, in 21 years there would be only one away win in a two-year rivalry – and that happened with the Miracle in Medina in 2012. A few weeks ago against the much-favored USA team, Donald looked set to become his continent's first multiple captain since Bernard Gallagher in 1995.
“We want to announce a captain by the end of the year, so Luke doesn't have much time to make a decision, although we've left him alone while he discusses it with his family because it's a big, big commitment,” the insider said. “There is a process, but everyone knows that if Luke wants it, Luke will get it. Let's just say the signs are promising.”
Luke Donald was a popular Ryder Cup captain. Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Hojgaard's inexorable rise should only make this challenge that much more palatable to Donald. He is among the top 50 players in the world, and next year all the major gaming events await him. It was a bittersweet day for the Hodggaard family as Nicholas' brother Rasmus narrowly missed out on the opportunity to earn one of the PGA Tour cards offered to the top 10 non-exempt players in the final Race to Dubai standings. Two identical twins, two opposite emotions.
“I'm sorry for Ras, but he'll come around. He always does this,” said Nikolai.
Another Ryder Cup newcomer, Bob McIntyre, secured playing privileges in the US, as did Adrian Meronk, the Pole who was unlucky enough to miss out on wildcard Marco Simone. This capability would provide vital exposure, especially in the event of a clash on US soil, and the blue and gold brigade would certainly benefit.
Rory McIlroy certainly thinks so and summarily dismisses the argument that this is a career path unveiled for the first time this year as a result of the “Strategic Alliance between Wentworth and Sawgrass Headquarters”, is a case of the DP World Tour “giving away its best players”.
“I think it's stupid,” he said. “This is simply a formalization of a path that has always existed. It will be good for the players and good for the European team that wins the Ryder Cup.”
McIlroy was another person to embrace Hojgaard. The world number two attended the awards ceremony to receive his fifth Harry Vardon Trophy for receiving the Order of Merit. In the tournament itself, McIlroy finished tied for 22nd after a 70 left him at 10 under.