WEB.COM TOUR INSIDER
Daniel Berger follows father's footsteps in becoming a pro athlete
June 12, 2016
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Daniel Berger ranks fifth on the Web.com Tour in driving distance. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Editor's note: This story originally ran in May 2014 during Berger's rookie season on the Web.com Tour. Berger, the 2015 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, won his first TOUR title on June 12, 2016, at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Daniel Berger has been competing against PGA TOUR players since high school. This is the first year he’s played as one of their professional peers, though, and his career is off to a promising start.
Berger worked the range at The Dye Preserve in Jupiter, Fla., in return for playing privileges. The club’s membership roll includes multiple TOUR players who took Berger under their wing and allowed the young apprentice to play alongside them.
“I had to work for it. It wasn’t just given to me,” Berger said. “I opened the range, closed the range. I was a range rat. I lived on the golf course. I’d go practice or play 18 after I picked the range. Then I’d close the range, set it up for the next day and do it again.”
An increasing number of professional golfers have moved to South Florida in recent years, but Berger was born there. He was playing amateur golf just as the number of PGA TOUR players per capita was rising exponentially in his hometown. Berger, 21, could shortly join his neighbors on TOUR; he’s 11th on the Web.com Tour money list after posting five top-25 finishes – including two third-place finishes – in his first 10 starts this season. The top 25 players on the money list at the conclusion of the regular season earn PGA TOUR cards.
Berger’s father, Jay, was a professional athlete in another sport. He advanced to the Round of 16 at the 1985 U.S. Open after his freshman season at Clemson. He turned pro the next year, eventually becoming one of the world’s top-10 players. Jay Berger is now the U.S. Tennis Association’s head of men’s tennis. He was the United States’ head coach at the 2012 Olympics.
This is Berger’s first full season as a pro. Berger, who started playing golf when he was 11, turned pro in 2013 after his sophomore season at Florida State. He was a first-team in his sophomore season and finished runner-up to Max Homa at last year’s NCAA Championship. Homa recently won the Web.com Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation.
Berger said it was a difficult decision to turn pro after his sophomore season, but wanted to be closer to his swing coach, Jeff Leishman, and the TOUR players who he’s competed against since high school. Leishman coaches a handful of PGA TOUR and Web.com Tour players, including Will MacKenzie.
“The biggest thing was being able to play with the pros,” Berger said. “It was time. I was playing really well and felt like I could compete.”
He was 20 years old when he played last year’s Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament. If he earns his PGA TOUR card this season, he will be just 21 years old when he begins the 2014-15 season. He’s 476th in the Official World Golf Ranking after starting the year at No. 1,508.
“He was around good players a lot. That accelerated his development mentally and physically,” Leishman said. “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 not intimidated by the situation.”
That showed at Q-School in December. Berger was 2 over after two rounds, but played the next three rounds in 17-under par, including a third-round 63. He finished 32nd to earn full status.
Kevin Johnson is a six-time Web.com Tour winner. He was at Clemson at the same time as Daniel’s father, Jay, and watched Daniel grow up at Dye Preserve.
“He’s the most confident guy I’ve ever met,” Johnson said about the younger Berger. “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.”
And he isn’t now.