Daniel Berger didn’t walk away from his first Masters Tournament empty-handed. His 1-under-par 71 in the second round last year tied for the low score of the day and earned him a crystal vase from Augusta National Golf Club.
Now he wants more.
“I’d like a green jacket that fits,” said Berger, who is 6-foot-1.
The way Berger played Augusta National in his first visit showed he has the game to contend or win. He tied for 10th place after rounds of 73-71-74-71.
“I played really good; I stuck to my process,” he said.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said of his finish. “I hadn’t won yet, but I was in the top 40 in the world.”
Berger, 24, has since earned his first PGA Tour victory. It came in the St. Jude Classic in June, where he held off Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Brooks Koepka to beat that trio by three shots.
It came in his 50th start on the PGA Tour, but he almost broke through in his 12th start. He lost the 2015 Honda Classic to Padraig Harrington in a playoff.
That loss, Berger says now, “showed me that I just needed to be a little bit more patient. Like I don’t know if I was ready to win The Honda Classic my rookie year. Don’t get me wrong; it would have been awesome. But I think for my golf standpoint, to mature and become a better golfer, that experience was better off for me.
“But I kept telling myself, that’s not going to be the only chance that I have, and you have some off weeks and you don’t play that good and you’re like, maybe that was the one time. But I just kind of stuck to my process and did everything that my coach, Jeff Leishman, and I have been working on and I kept getting better and better. I’m one hundred times better this year than I was two years ago. So that’s exciting.”
That playoff appearance in the 2015 Honda Classic, plus another runner-up finish and four other top-10s, helped Berger earn Rookie of the Year honors.
The fact he earned that award without a victory came up during a lightning delay in the final round of the St. Jude Classic, when Mickelson needled him about it in the players’ dining area.
Berger went out and finished off a 3-under-par 67 to win with ease.
“To do that with so many great players, Hall of Famers behind me, it’s something that I’ll never forget and I just love the way I hung in there and was able to get it done,” Berger said.
After the third round of the St. Jude Classic, Berger mentioned that he called Mickelson “Philip” instead of his preferred Phil.
“I like to call Phil Philip. He says only his wife calls him that, I can’t call him that until I win on the PGA Tour. But I still call him that anyway. I don’t care. It is what it is,” Berger said at the time.
After Berger won the St. Jude Classic, he said Mickelson told him he “earned” the right to call him Philip.
“It’s nice,” Berger said. “Phil has been one of those guys that’s been around for so many years and it’s hard not to be a fan of his when you’re growing up because he’s always happy, always smiling and I can learn a little bit from that, too.”
Asked in March why he started calling him Philip, Berger said it was “because I like to give him crap.”
Berger, who played his college golf at Florida State, has never been one to back down.
“I think you’re either born to be a competitor or you’re not and I think I was born to be a competitor no matter what sport, no matter what I’m doing with my brothers, with my friends,” he said. “I just want to win in whatever I do and I feel like that’s just the way.”