Ludvig Aberg leads college golf’s big three in race for postseason glory
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Gordon Sargent, Michael Thorbjornsen in close pursuit into NCAA Championship
Written by Jordan Perez @jrdnprz
Take your pick of amateur golf’s achievement metrics in the last calendar year, and you’ll see three names repeatedly listed: Ludvig Aberg, Gordon Sargent and Michael Thorbjornsen. In that order are the world’s top three men’s amateur golfers, who have risen to become some of the most impressive athletes in college golf’s modern era.
By proxy, this trio has birthed what has arguably been the deepest player of the year race since the inception of PGA TOUR University. “This race reminds me of 2019 with Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland,” said Baylor head men’s golf coach Mike McGraw, who has spent nearly three decades at the helm of college golf. “Both years had incredibly dominant players.”
This chase for history is unique in not only the depth of their accomplishments but the long-term implications. As the frontrunner, Aberg has remained atop the PGA TOUR University Ranking all year long, and if his finish holds true, he will become the first player in collegiate golf history to automatically lock up a PGA TOUR card at the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship, hosted at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, May 26-31.
The top-ranked player on PGA TOUR University after the NCAA Championship will earn immediate TOUR membership through 2024.
Sargent and Thorbjornsen are also on the brink of their own unique history — they sit atop the PGA TOUR University Accelerated list with 13 points each, only seven away from the required 20 to earn PGA TOUR membership before their senior years. Postseason awards become increasingly more important: A Haskins award and an NCAA Division I individual title are worth three points each. As a sophomore, Sargent has an additional year to complete the feat. Beginning next fall, Thorbjornsen will be eligible to compete on the standard PGA TOUR University list for seniors and is projected to be the No. 1 player on the 2023-24 list.
Days ahead of the NCAA men’s individual championship, Aberg joined Jon Rahm in becoming the only two players to claim the Ben Hogan Award for the second time in its 30-year history. The annual award honors the top men’s college golfer based on collegiate, amateur and professional events over the previous 12 months.
Aberg, Sargent and Thorbjornsen were all named finalists prior to NCAA Regionals, but Aberg was the only player to capture medalist honors in helping his team qualify for the NCAA Championship. At the Norman Regional, Aberg carded 67-68-67 to finish a stroke ahead of the field.
“He's kind of quietly gone about his business and quietly put together, I think, one of the best four-year careers that we've seen in college,” said Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine, a leading authority on college golf. “He's one of the better college players that we've had in the past decade or so.”
Recognized at the ceremony was a season full of accolades, Aberg’s most decorated yet. In his final year of college, the No. 1-ranked PGA TOUR University player has won four times and compiled nine top-10 finishes, all backed by an impressive season stroke average of 68.46.
“There’s a lot going on around me on the golf course and off the golf course, so I’m just really happy to be in the position I am and keep playing well,” Aberg said after capturing the individual title.
But the race for player of the year honors doesn’t end there. This trio remains in contention for the Haskins Award, which is selected by a contingent of coaches, media, players and former winners. The winner is announced at the conclusion of the men’s individual stroke play championship, and while Aberg has gained plenty of ground in his postseason, he still has the defending individual champion and a player amidst his collegiate golf peak at his heels.
Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Sargent made headlines in his freshman year when he won the NCAA Division I individual title in a four-man playoff against veterans Parker Coody, Ryan Burnett and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra. But his domination did not end when the spring semester was over. He has followed up his success with three victories on the year, as well as 10 runner-up finishes and a Masters invitation. Known for his signature head-spinning swing speed, Sargent has vaulted the Vanderbilt Commodores to the top of collegiate golf, notching six team titles in their crusade.
Michael Thorbjornsen has accomplished plenty on both the amateur and even the professional scene — storming onto the scene after big wins at the Western Amateur and the Massachusetts Amateur after his freshman year – but has truly come into his own in his third year of collegiate play. After missing match play at the NCAA Championship in 2022, Thorbjornsen has played his best season of college golf yet, propelling himself and the Cardinal to a Pac-12 title, another individual title and eight top-10s. Stanford has emerged as one of the leading contenders for the national title, with three team titles under their belt en route to Grayhawk.
All three players have proven themselves on every single stage, but their experiences on the professional level are uniquely significant. Last summer at the Travelers Championship, Thorbjornsen finished in fourth place. Aberg earned two professional wins on the Swedish Golf Tour back in 2020. Both Aberg and Thorbjornsen made the cut at the DP World Tour’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic just before the spring college golf season began. And while Sargent’s week at the Masters was uncharacteristically rocky, he quickly bounced back with a collegiate win at the following week’s Mason Rudolph Championship, eight strokes clear of the field.
But professional golf will be there for this trio. The clock is ticking for a collegiate national championship, an achievement that eludes all three. Stanford’s early exit in 2022 stung Thorbjornsen. Sargent and Vanderbilt topped Aberg and Texas Tech in the quarterfinals but lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Texas. No matter what the future holds for this group, plenty of unfinished business remains – and Sargent, the youngest of the three, sums it up wisely: “Our main goal is a national championship, but with team success, player of the year can be there, too.”
Name: Ludvig Aberg
School and year: Texas Tech, senior
Hometown: Eslov, Sweden
Golfweek rank: 2
Golfstat rank: 2
WAGR rank: 1
Career highlights: No. 1 in WAGR and PGA TOUR U. Back-to-back winner of the Ben Hogan Award. Two professional wins on the Swedish Golf Tour. Represented Sweden in winning the 2019 European Team Amateur Championship. Has made the cut in three PGA TOUR starts.
Name: Gordon Sargent
School and year: Vanderbilt, sophomore
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Golfweek rank: 1
Golfstat rank: 1
WAGR rank: 2
Career highlights: Played as one of seven amateurs in the 2023 Masters under a special invitation. SEC Player of the Year. One of the three finalists for the Ben Hogan Award. Haskins Award finalist. 2022 Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award. Became Vanderbilt’s all-time leader for career wins after victory at the Mason Rudolph Championship.
Name: Michael Thorbjornsen
School and year: Stanford, junior
Hometown: Wellesley, Massachusetts
Golfweek rank: 3
Golfstat rank: 3
WAGR rank: 3
Career highlights: Solo fourth finish at the Travelers Championship. Winner of the 2021 Western Amateur and Massachusetts Amateur. Winner of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur; became the first champion to make the cut at the U.S. Open.