For Daniel Berger, PGA National is like a happy homecoming

USA Today Sports Images
Daniel Berger returns to PGA National one year after losing a sudden-death playoff to Padraig Harrington.
By
Steve Waters
Sun Sentinel

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 | 1:39 a.m.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- After finishing second at last year's Honda Classic, Daniel Berger is excited to be back at the tournament this week.

That's because the South Florida native's familiarity with the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa always brings out the best in his game.

"No matter how bad I'm playing coming into this week, I always somehow just turn it around and feel good," said Berger, of Jupiter, who lost to Padraig Harrington on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.

"Just to be on the range, and I've been on that driving range a million times in my life when I was 14, 15, 16 years old, it just brings back good memories."

A more recent positive memory for the 22-year-old was how he accomplished his goal at last year's Honda of having a strong performance in front of his family and friends.

"I can't remember a time that I came into a tournament wanting to play really well and I ended up playing really well," Berger said. "Usually when I don't care, I end up playing well.

"Keeping the expectations low is really important for me. And then I get in the top 15 in the FedExCup and I'm like, Oh, maybe I'm good enough to be out here. Then my expectations get really high and I go on a stretch where I miss six of eight cuts. And then that kind of was a reality check, like Let's go back to what I was doing and stop caring anymore, and I finish 11th in the FedExCup. So it seems when I keep the expectations low, I seem to play well."

Those low expectations paid off for Berger, who played two years at Florida State University before turning pro.

He played on the Web.com Tour in 2014 and advanced to the PGA Tour by finishing 15th on the money list. Last season he won more than $3 million and was the PGA Tour's Rookie of the Year.

Patrick Rodgers, 23, of Palm Beach Gardens, who won just over $1 million last season, said he's the opposite of Berger.

"I have really high expectations every week," said Rodgers, who tied for 44th here last year. "The thing that I struggle with is just managing those expectations. I feel like I know I can compete and I know that I can win out here. It doesn't make winning or being in contention any easier because you know that you can do it.

"I know I play my best golf when I'm really relaxed and free. I play great a lot when I'm at home, just hanging out with the guys. So even though I have really high expectations, the more I can get in that relaxed, free, just having a good time out on the golf course mindset, that's how I'm going to play my best."

Playing well in the Honda pretty much requires golfers to get through the Bear Trap, which consists of holes 15-17, with as few mistakes as possible. On the final day of the tournament, that watery stretch has cost many players the tournament over the past nine years.

"I think if you're in contention and you can get through the Bear Trap at even par or 1 under, then you're going to have a great chance to win," Berger said. "Like last year, I wasn't even sniffing a chance and you get the last three groups coming through there and they are all playing over par and next thing you know, you have a chance to win."

"For lack of a better term, you've just got to man up," Rodgers said. "You've got to stick your chest out and hit great shots when you need to. On most of those holes, there's no bail-out. You just have to hit the shot that's required. I'd say on even really challenging golf courses, that's unique.

"That makes for a really exciting finish when you have guys who are nervous with the lead or being in contention. I'm excited to be in that position for sure."

This article was written by Steve Waters from Sun Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.