The name is not one that tops the list, any list, when it comes to local professional golf.
Name the modern-day iconic players from the South Florida area and first to come to mind is Tiger Woods before continuing on a Who’s Who of golf royalty with Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland, all but Fowler with at least one Major title.
Narrow it to those who were raised in that area and not there just to take advantage of the weather and tax breaks, and the first name that pops up is Koepka.
The same can be said of the most successful golfers ever to come out of Florida State. Again, that’s Koepka.
But there is one golfer who is on every one of these lists, who flies below the radar and is comfortable living in anonymity … at least when it comes to golf’s upper crust.
“I do feel like I’m underrated, but that’s okay with me,” Daniel Berger said Sunday after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, his fourth PGA Tour title. “I just think it’s put a little chip on my shoulder, which is totally fine.”
With Koepka winning in Phoenix last week, Berger’s victory Sunday means brings many comparisons between the two former Florida State players, who both were raised in Palm Beach County.
While Koepka has earned his praise with four Majors since 2017, Berger’s success has been a bit more methodical, mainly due to a wrist injury that occurred in June 2018 and impacted his game for about a year.
But since feeling whole, Berger is on a roll that has eclipsed what most of his neighbors would sign up for.
Berger had his best season in 2020, winning his third PGA event — the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, the first tournament after the three-month shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic — and career bests in top 10s (7) and earnings ($4.4 million) in just 17 events.
Berger also pushed his streak of rounds of par or better on Tour to 33, which is tied for sixth since records were kept in 1983.
The 2021 season is on track to be better with his recent win and three top 10s in eight events. He also has an invitation to the Masters, which he did not receive last year despite being ranked No. 13 at the time of the rescheduled event in Augusta, Georgia — but not having qualified before the original date.
“I’ve set some really high goals. I’m not scared to put in the work,” he said. “I’m not the most talented guy out here. I don’t hit it the farthest, but I’ll outwork anybody. So that’s where I think, that is my biggest weapon.”
Berger’s confidence is soaring. He sounded like Koepka, who has shown to be as composed as anyone when it comes to pressure shots. That emerged down the stretch Sunday when Berger, at or near the top of the leaderboard all day, stepped onto the par-5 18th tee tied for the lead and was staring at a hole that he double bogeyed Saturday after hitting his ball out of bounds.
Sunday, he blasted a driver into the fairway, a 3-wood from 250 yards to the green and dropped a 30-foot eagle putt to seal the win with a round of 65. His 18-under 270 was two shots better than Maverick McNealy.
“I think the biggest thing is playing fearlessly,” Berger said. “I’ve been in this situation before, coming down the last hole, having to hit a good shot, sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but you really have to be bold and I feel like did I that (Sunday).”
Jordan Spieth — another whose shadow Berger has played in with both, along with Thomas, part of the 2011 high school graduating class — was impressed.
“(From) making a 7 to making a 3 to win the golf tournament, I told him ‘that’s incredible,’ ” Spieth said. “No one really knows how hard that is to stand on that tee and make a 3 after you’ve hit it out of bounds the day before and you’re tied for the lead. That’s … it was awesome.”
Berger credited that to the confidence he built when he started playing the game at 14 years old.
That’s not to say these men of steel (nerves) never waver. Injuries are humbling and even Koepka had doubts, saying after winning at Phoenix there was time in the last year he questioned whether he was going to be “remotely the same golfer” he ever was while dealing with knee and hip pain. Berger had his moments, too, a few years ago dealing with pain that started in his finger and traveled to his wrist.
“I thought, man, I’m never going to be able to play golf again without feeling like I was going to be hurt and not be able to do the things I know I needed to do to prepare and play my best golf,” he said.
Berger added he questioned whether he even loved the game until it was taken away for three or four months.
But then 2020 happened, and something good came out of an otherwise difficult year for everyone. Berger’s last three starts before the COVID-caused pause were top 10 finishes. His next six after the restart went like this: 1, T3, cut, T2, T13, 3.
“I love that feeling of that pressure and, I wouldn’t call it anxiety, but I would call it excitement,” he said.
After winning his first event on tour in 2016, the St. Jude Classic and repeating as the St. Jude champion the next year, Berger’s World Golf Ranking rose to No. 18 in June 2017.
That ranking tumbled to 152 early in 2020 before the climb back. After a top 15 finish in last year’s PGA Championship he reached a new high at No. 13. He’s back there this week, one spot behind Koepka.
And although Berger may be No. 13 in the world, he’s No. 6 in Palm Beach County.
“You look at some of the other guys and what they have accomplished, I’m kind of right in line with that,” he said. “So, I just want to continue to get better. My goal has always been to be the No. 1 player in the world and some people will laugh at that and that’s fine, but that’s something that every day I wake up and I strive for.”