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    Smiling killer Ludwig Aberg proves he is the future of European golf

    Aberg's relaxed demeanor bodes well for his future at the top of the game. Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar

    Ludwig Aberg was the picture of nonchalance as he walked to the 10th tee, so unconcerned about his share of the Masters lead that he high-fived spectators along the way. Unfortunately, in the midst of all this friendliness, his energy bar was knocked out of his hand, and his final round was never the same. Just 15 minutes later, playing a treacherous approach to the 11th that invites you to flirt with Race Creek, the Swede overcooked his favorite draw and saw his hopes of becoming the second player to win the Masters on debut dashed.< /p>

    He smiled at the fatal mistake. Aberg is not prone to theatrical self-flagellation, preferring to accept the punishment and erase all mistakes from his memory. But it was tempting to imagine how differently the 24-year-old rookie's outstanding performance might have been had it not been for that one brain fade. After all, he would have a hard time breaking the indomitable Scotty Scheffler. But in those few exhilarating moments that he stood at the top, there was a temptation to believe that anything was possible.

    Based on the past four days, there is no doubt that Aberg represents the future of European golf. He is the embodiment of laconic Scandinavian composure, smiling despite setbacks and walking between holes with his hands in his pockets. This is the attitude of a man who, at least on the track, has rarely had to contend with adversity. The transition to the professional ranks can be traumatic: think about Justin Rose, who marked his transition with 21 consecutive misses. Aberg, by contrast, began his career as a professional last year, finishing in the top 25 six times out of eight, winning the European Masters and becoming the first player ever to compete in the Ryder Cup without playing a major.

    It's this backdrop that makes his breakthrough at Augusta so amazing. Much has been made of Aberg's reputation as the world number nine, the first debutant since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to achieve Masters glory. But before his most famous victory, Zeller played five more major tournaments. Aberg, on the contrary, had never occupied such an exalted stage in his life. He handled the climb in his signature manner: stylish, smoothly, without fuss.

    Rarely has golf seen a player who looks so mentally prepared for the toughest challenges. At the Ryder Cup in Rome, he easily could have been an alternate, but instead he partnered Viktor Hovland and delivered a historic 9-and-7 win over Brooks Koepka and Scheffler. As the sun set on Georgia, Scheffler couldn't be denied this time, but the young man still exceeded all expectations. He attributes it all to his approach to pressure and not letting the magnitude of the moment get the better of him.

    Aberg particularly enjoyed the wind challenge this week. While several great golfers have been blown off course by gusty winds, Aberg adjusted easily, explaining that he faced similar conditions while attending university in Lubbock, Texas. It had barely been a year since he graduated from Texas Tech or since he competed for the national collegiate championship. Over the past months, he has received the greatest privileges the game has to offer, and has enjoyed taking advantage of them.

    Rory McIlroy, who knows a little about early junior development, couldn't help but be impressed. Finishing 11 shots behind Aberg, he said: “He's winning in Europe, he's winning in the States, he's playing in his first Masters and he'll play the back nine on Sunday. He proved his belonging at every stage.”

    How the crowd adored him. Even as he endured the torrid final journey up the 18th arrondissement, zigzagging from bunker to bunker, he was greeted rapturously. If not for Scheffler's brilliance, these might have been the sounds of an incredible coronation. Except Aberg didn’t seem too alarmed by the “if only” phrases. When he made par on the 18th, a hole he needed to make to have any chance, he broke into a huge smile. This is the type of worldview that should take him far.

    Last to go, he fell into the arms of his parents, Mia and Johan. These were scenes not of sorrowful consolation, but of triumph. Aberg couldn't stop smiling. He showed that he was made for the Masters, combining technical precision and icy temperament. His time will come soon, and he knows it. The European game has been searching for its next true icon, but in Aberg it has found its most compelling candidate yet.

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