Daniel Berger on his boat
All Aboard

My Shot: Daniel Berger

On never watching the Masters, deleting tweets that miss the cut, and why time on a boat can beat playing golf.
With Guy Yocom
April 13, 2018

I G♥LF as much or more than anybody, but I've never watched it on TV except out of the corner of my eye. Not one round of the Masters, or even an episode of "Golf Central." I've never seen the Feherty show. If I've watched a couple of hours of golf, total, I'd be surprised. I did watch a few highlights of Justin Thomas winning the PGA Championship last year, because he's a buddy, and I was curious how he did it. But that's about it. I follow golf through Twitter, Instagram and the PGA Tour app. I'm very weak on golf history, because you pick up a lot of that on TV. I know Jack Nicklaus has 18 majors, and that Tiger has 14, but I have no idea who's third. I'm not trying to shock you. It's just how it is.

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YOU SEEM FASCINATED BY THIS, so here's a little more: When I played in my first Masters, in 2016, I knew nothing about Augusta National except what I'd seen playing the Tiger video game. I had a couple of invitations to play the course in advance and appreciated them but was like, "Thank you, but I'm good." Not knowing what a big deal it was is probably why I didn't play a full practice round. I walked the front nine on Tuesday with a wedge and putter and played the back nine on Wednesday. I tied for 10th that first year. I think it's a hard course. Very hilly.

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NOT BEING A GOLF JUNKIE who reads and watches golf on TV constantly maybe taught me to look at the game a little differently. Remember when Jordan Spieth holed that bunker shot on the first playoff hole to beat me at the Travelers last year? When something like that happens, you'll hear announcers say things like, "That must really be a shock to his opponent," but I don't see it that way. Even a great shot like Jordan's, experience has taught me that it's sort of random whether it actually goes in. It would have been a bad time to react to a golf shot.

I still had a long putt from just off the green to tie Jordan, and I almost made it. I'm proud of how I took the emotion out of it. If I'd let Jordan's shot affect me, I probably wouldn't have come close.

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HANGING OUT WITH TIGER and the team at the last Presidents Cup, I heard stories about how he used to "will" the ball into the hole. It implied he could steer the ball with his mind. That's getting too far out there. What Tiger did was hit putts with perfect speed on a perfect line. There's nothing else to it. Next time I see Tiger, I need to ask him if he can bend objects with his mind. I'm guessing he'll laugh at the idea.

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AM I THE ONLY ONE who erases nine out of 10 tweets before hitting the send button? A couple of years ago, I used to lob tweets at my buddies in the golf and tennis world. Nothing too controversial, but little digs that probably would have made them laugh if I said them in person. But seeing how the comments looked online made me worry if people thought I was making fun of them. It made me a lot more cautious. Most of my tweets these days @danielberger59 don't make the cut.

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I'M NOT THE MOST OUTSPOKEN guy on tour, but I try to speak from the heart. There's the comment I made when I came off the course on Saturday at the Presidents Cup last year. ["I hope that we close them out today, and we go out there tomorrow and beat them even worse."] I stand by that. I know it rubbed the last-place-deserves-a-trophy crowd the wrong way, probably because we had a big lead and they expected us to feel sorry for them. But I was being honest how pros think. Not just in sports, but in business. There's no doubt in my mind the Internationals would have thought the same thing if the tables were reversed. I wouldn't have a problem hearing them say what I said.

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WHAT'S A TOUGH COMPETITOR, if not one who wants to bury you? On the second hole of my match against Phil Mickelson at the 2016 WGC-Match Play, Phil had a one-foot putt for a halve. I didn't give it to him. It was no big deal; I just wanted him to putt it. He knocked it in. A couple of holes later, Phil sidled up to me. He said, "So how about that putt on No. 2?" I started to feel a little sheepish, because Phil's a veteran and I respect him. I said, "Well, I'm sorry about that. I was just ..." Before I could finish, Phil snapped back, "Don't ever apologize for making a guy putt." That was a cool move on his part and a good thing for a kid to hear. He beat me, 1 up, not conceding many putts, if I recall correctly.

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THERE'S BEEN A LOT MADE about players rooting for and supporting each other, and it's true—to a point. If Rickie Fowler has a 10-foot putt to beat me, his good friend Bubba Watson is going to be rooting for Rickie. But if Bubba had a 10-foot putt to beat Rickie, you can bet he's trying to make it without mercy. From what I've noticed, the friendships are sincere until it comes to the actual competition. Then it's ruthless.

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TIMING IS SO IMPORTANT. At the 2013 Web.com Tour qualifying school, I squeezed onto the exempt list by two shots. If I'd missed, you never know how long it might have taken me to get to the PGA Tour, because tour players' games aren't hot all the time. At that same Q school, Justin Thomas finished 66-65 to also get his card by two shots. You have to figure Justin would get to the PGA Tour eventually, but what if he hadn't had that hot finish? It's not like either one of us would have been given any shortcuts.

‘Before I could finish, Phil snapped back, “Don’t ever apologize for making a guy putt..” ’

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MY TWO PGA TOUR WINS were back-to-back at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, in 2016 and '17. You hear about horses for courses, but I swear that isn't the case for me. St. Jude is at TPC Southwind, a course I like a lot but don't love as much as others. It's not tailored for my game exactly. Other TPC courses suit me better—TPC River Highlands and TPC Louisiana come to mind. So again, it comes down to timing. It's played the week before the U.S. Open, which is a good time to be peaking.

Getty Images (2)

It's safe to say Berger feels right at home at TPC Southwind outside Memphis, after back-to-back wins at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

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WHEN JORDAN, Rickie, Justin and Smylie posted the videos from their #SB2K16 trip, I thought, That looks like a blast, because I've never done a cool spring break. But then I saw them playing golf, and all my envy went away. When I'm on vacation, I leave my clubs at home. A boat looks a lot better to me than the golf course.

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SPENDING TIME ON THE WATER is a big stress reliever for me. I grew up with my dad and brothers doing a lot of water sports and still do to this day. Diving, wakeboarding, saltwater fishing—we did it all. My boat, a Pathfinder, is my special place when I'm not on the road, and I spend lots of time on it. I love the post-dinner sunset cruise or even heading out in the dark to catch some snook.

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MUSIC IS HUGE among players on the PGA Tour. The younger guys especially. One guy I really like is Justin Bieber. I'm not a die-hard fan or anything and probably have only five songs of his in my library, but I like his music. I respect how he's evolved since his teen-heartthrob days, how his music has gotten better. I like the sheer fact he's created something that other people enjoy. At the PGA Championship last year, I got out of my courtesy car, and there he was, hanging out. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of influential people, but this was a notch above. It was like, Holy crap, it's Justin Bieber!

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BUT FOR PURE GOLF MUSIC, I gotta go with reggae. Bands like Iration, Slightly Stoopid and Stick Figure add a great chill, almost like the music was purposed expressly for golf. But I don't want any music around when I'm playing competitively. Part of the beauty of tournament golf is the way it sends different thoughts and emotions into your head. It's fun listening to those thoughts, good and bad. I wouldn't want music drowning that out.

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THAT SAID, some music on tour could be fun. A couple years ago, during a Q&A with some folks from the tour, I was asked what I'd do if I were commissioner for a day. I said I'd introduce walk-up music on the first tee as a way for players to show a little personality. I think I'd choose "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang. That one always puts me in a good mood.

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MY DAD, JAY BERGER, played pro tennis for several years in the late 1980s. He won some tournaments and got to the quarters of the U.S. Open and French Open in 1989. After he retired because of injuries, he became a very good coach, and until last year he was head of player development for the United States Tennis Association. My dad's biggest thrill—the thing that fulfilled him most—was playing Davis Cup for America. When I was little, he'd tell me how there's nothing like playing for your country. His patriotism filtered down to me, because playing in the Presidents Cup has been the biggest thrill of my career so far. When Patrick Reed talks about the excitement of wearing the red, white and blue, I know where he's coming from.

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PATRICK GOT A LOT OF ATTENTION for doing the shushing gesture in the 2014 Ryder Cup. In my Presidents Cup singles match against Si Woo Kim, I had a 2-up lead playing the 11th hole and then chipped in for birdie. The crowd went nuts. When Si Woo made a seven-footer to tie, he did the shushing move. I loved that. He's a tough competitor, and I liked how he brought everything to the table, tried his best to bury me and invited me to try to do the same to him.

Elsa

Berger celebrates with the trophy and some teammates after the Americans' easy 19-11 win over the International Team at the 2017 Presidents Cup.

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ALL MY ENERGY is going into making the Ryder Cup team this fall. It's my biggest immediate goal. My dad said that when he beat Jimmy Connors in the second round at the French Open in 1989, there were four people in Roland Garros Stadium rooting for him—the three people sitting in his box, and him. It'll be like that in France, almost everybody pulling for Europe. I'd love to be in the middle of that.

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IN MY DAD'S DAY, tennis courts were full. Not anymore. There's a concern that golf could go the way of tennis, that participation will dry up. I don't see it. See, tennis takes effort. You're going to get sweaty, and you might be sore for three days after. It's harder to compete across age groups. You aren't really hanging with your buddies; it's usually you and another person. Golf, you get to hang out and drink beer. You can be lazy at it if you want; there are even little things to get the ball out of the hole for you. It's a lot more social, a little less intense. It has all these options and dimensions, with courses, equipment, instruction and watching the pro game. I don't see golf ever going away. It's the most awesome leisure sport and always will be.

‘I was moping, feeling sorry for myself. Ivan [Lendl] looked at me, then grabbed me by the shoulders, not hard and not mean, to get my attention.’

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AS A SPECTATOR SPORT, the mistake tennis made was the focus the ATP put on the four majors. Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens way overshadowed the regular tournaments. Pro golf has handled its product differently. It emphasizes its majors but has made regular tour events important. Winning a PGA Tour event has the potential to change a player's life, and there are enough really good players to generate interest every week.

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MY DAD SENT ME to a golf summer camp when I was 11, and I came away knowing I wanted to be a pro golfer. During the school year, my dad would drop me off at Crandon Golf Club in Key Biscayne at 6 a.m. I'd practice for two hours, then he or my mom would drive me to school. At 12:30, my mom or older sister would pick me up and drive me back to the course, and I'd play or practice until dark. I played both weekend days practically from sunup to sundown, and during the summers, I was out there every single day. The moral of my story at that point is my family. Looking back on it, the amount of schedule disruption on their part was staggering. When it came to golf, they never said no. Even when I misbehaved, like blowing off homework assignments, the punishment never involved depriving me of golf. It's hard to fail when you have that much support.

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AND IT'S ABOUT THE HOURS. Another thing my dad said: Every minute I wasn't practicing, there was a kid in China or South America who was. He believes in the 10,000-hour concept, the idea that really accomplished people totally immerse themselves in their craft. I took that to heart. I wore out clubs and grips. I'd hit balls until I literally was limp and couldn't swing anymore. That's another thing about not watching golf on TV. I was so busy playing, being a fan had no appeal to me.

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DURING THOSE EARLY YEARS, I played in a junior tournament in Connecticut. When I finished my first round, I ran into Ivan Lendl, a family friend. "How'd you do?" he asked. "Not very good," I said. "I shot 78." I was moping, feeling sorry for myself. Ivan looked at me, then grabbed me by the shoulders. Not hard and not mean, but sharply, to get my attention. "You must go out and do better tomorrow," he said, and then he gave me a lecture on what I needed to do. It actually woke me up. He cared. I had support outside of my immediate family.

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THE WAY TO GET GOOD, FAST, is to play with people who are better than you are. When I was in high school, Ivan helped us make an arrangement with Joe Webster, the owner of The Dye Preserve here in Jupiter, whereby I could play and practice in exchange for picking the range, cleaning carts, caddieing and whatever else needed to be done. I started playing on a regular basis with tour players like Steve Marino, Will MacKenzie, Richard Johnson and Marc Turnesa. We always played for something, and they never gave me shots. Their skills rubbed off on me, and so did their attitudes and competitiveness. They had a mind-set of improving all the time, and the takeaway for me was, I wasn't going to let anything stop me from getting better.

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AT FLORIDA STATE, where I played for two years, I got to a point where I had to move on. I won some tournaments and was a first-team All-American. But in school you can't do everything. There was no way I could study six hours for a math test and also get up at 6 a.m. to work on my game. Something had to give. So I turned pro after my sophomore year, when I was 20.

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I'M NOT INTO STATS MUCH. My coach, Jeff Leishman, is more into them than me. I have a TrackMan, but I see it as just a really expensive tape measure. I don't watch my swing on video, either. Maybe it comes from learning the game a lot on my own when I was a kid at The Dye Preserve, and playing pretty much by feel. But to me, the only stat I look at hard is number of wins. That's the one I want to improve.


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