Berger's confidence takes him to next level
June 13, 2016
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Daniel Berger worked at The Dye Preserve during high school where he would play competitive rounds with TOUR pros. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Daniel Berger has been confident competing against PGA TOUR players since he was a kid.
It showed Sunday in Memphis, when the 23-year-old held off Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Brooks Koepka at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Mickelson is a World Golf Hall of Famer, Stricker is a 12-time TOUR winner who once was ranked second in the world and Koepka is Berger’s former Florida State teammate. Koepka was a Seminoles senior when Berger arrived in Tallahassee as a brash freshman.
Berger showed after the third round that he wasn’t intimidated by Mickelson’s five major titles and 42 PGA TOUR wins. Berger joked with the media about calling Mickelson by his full first name, Philip.
“He doesn’t like it,” said Berger, who’s friendly with Mickelson and plays practice rounds with him. “I just do it anyway.”
Mickelson caught wind of the quote, and returned the favor during the three-hour rain delay that came just after Sunday’s final group had teed off. Mickelson ribbed Berger about winning last season’s PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year award without winning a tournament (Berger did it with two runners-up and an 11th-place showing in the FedExCup).
“It kind of pissed me off a little bit but to kind of get it done today just means a lot,” Berger said.
Berger is comfortable around the TOUR’s best players because of a unique upbringing that had him competing against the pros since he was a high-schooler. Berger’s father Jay is a former professional tennis player and was the United States’ coach at the 2012 Olympics. The Bergers have lived in south Florida since before PGA TOUR players started flocking to the area. He worked the range at The Dye Preserve, a popular spot for pro golfers, during high school to get playing privileges.
“He was around good players a lot,” his instructor, Jeff Leishman, said. “That accelerated his development mentally and physically. Even as a 16-year-old, he would play competitively against players like Steve Marino. Most people would feel uncomfortable in that. Daniel was never really like that.”
He’s made a quick transition to pro golf since turning pro in 2013 after his sophomore season at Florida State. He graduated after one season (2014) on the Web.com Tour, then was the TOUR’s top rookie last season, when he finished 11th in the FedExCup. He’s 14th in the standings this season.
“He’s the most confident guy I’ve ever met,” said Kevin Johnson, a former TOUR player who played with a teen-aged Berger at The Dye’s Preserve. “He has no fear. He hits it hard. He wasn’t afraid to go up and play with TOUR guys. He wasn’t backing down.”
He didn’t Sunday, either.
"It's just a dream come true to finally be a champion."— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 13, 2016
Five Microsoft Insights
1. Daniel Berger put together some impressive ballstriking en route to his FedEx St. Jude victory. He ranked fifth in strokes gained: off-the-tee (+4.56) and first in strokes gained: approach-the-green (+8.09). He tied for first in the field by hitting 54 of 72 greens; he hit at least 12 greens in each round. He also was fifth in driving distance (309.9 yards) and 11th in driving accuracy (34 of 56).
Four of the past five FedEx St. Jude Classic champions have all ranked inside the top 20 for Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. Berger ranked fifth.
2. He was no slouch with his short game, either. He ranked 29th in strokes gained: around-the-green (+0.958) and 19th in strokes gained: putting (+2.73).
3. Daniel Berger has made one previous U.S. Open start in his career. He tied for 28th in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. His final-round 66 was the day’s low score.
4. Berger is the sixth different player under the age of 25 to win this season. That’s the most since 1983.
5. Phil Mickelson led the field in strokes gained: putting (+11.50). He was 60th in strokes gained: approach-the-green (-1.63) despite entering the event at No. 4 on TOUR in that category (+0.85).
Top three videos
1. You’ve heard of H-O-R-S-E and P-I-G. Well, here’s P-A-R, where players attempted to hit TPC Southwind’s island green with trick shots. Will Wilcox, who aced TPC Sawgrass’ famous island hole in THE PLAYERS, took on one of the TOUR’s characters, Will Mackenzie.
Battle of two Wills: P-A-R Competition
2. Phil Mickelson is 15th in the FedExCup this season after hiring a new instructor, Andrew Getson, in the offseason. Here’s a closer look at their work together:
Phil Mickelson's slo-mo swing is analyzed at FedEx St. Jude
3. This was literally the perfect approach shot. It didn’t even damage the hole.
1. Daniel Berger was runner-up to Max Homa at the 2013 NCAA Championship. While Berger was winning Sunday in Memphis, Homa won his second Web.com Tour title. Homa, who finished 163rd in the FedExCup last year, jumped from 52nd to ninth on the Web.com Tour money list and looks like he’ll be making a return trip to the PGA TOUR.
2. Dan Woltman had one of the most important performances of the week. He doesn’t have any status on the Web.com Tour, but he Monday qualified for last week’s Rust-Oleum Championship and finished fourth. He’s now 77th on the money list. The top 75 at the end of the Regular Season qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals, the four-event series where they can compete for PGA TOUR cards.
3. There have been three events on Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada this season. Dan McCarthy has won two of them. He claimed a seven-shot victory Sunday at the GolfBC Championship. He finished sixth in between his two victories. He is 50 under par in nine rounds this season, with a scoring average of 66.8. He’s shot in the 60s in 11 of 12 rounds.