Berger first Jew in 12 years to win PGA golf championship

Daniel Berger

American Daniel Berger of Jupiter, Fla., became the first Jewish golfer in 12 years to win a Professional Golf Association (PGA) title since Jonathan Kaye won the FBR Open in 2004.

Berger won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis on June 12 with a 13 under par 267, before millions of viewers in the nationally televised event.

Only in his third season as a pro golfer and winner of the PGA rookie of the year in 2015, Berger, 23, earned $1.1 million for his first PGA win in the 50th event he entered.

“Winning today is a dream come true. To get it done means a lot. To do that with so many great Hall Of Fame players behind me, it’s something I will never forget, and I just love the way I hung in there and was able to got it done,” Berger said on tele- vision following his victory.

Berger is expected to be competing at the Canadian Open golf tournament that will take place July 18 to 24 at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont.

Berger was commanding in his victory, leading the Memphis event from the second round on. He shot a six under 64 to lead in the second round by three strokes and never relinquished the lead for the remainder of the tournament.

Berger’s reference to the Hall of Fame golfers playing behind him was to PGA tour champions Phil Mickelson and Steve Striker. At one point in the final round, Mickelson was only one stroke behind Berger and Striker trailed by two.

After shooting a bogey to open the final round, Berger reacted to the pressure by scoring three birdies over four holes, the 12th, the 14th (with a 32-foot putt) and 15th, to seal his victory with a final round 67, three strokes ahead of his competitors.

“Daniel is definitely one of the bright young stars in the PGA, and I foresee him winning more titles in the future,” said golf commentator Ian Baker-Finch during the final round telecast. “His ability to focus and rebound from a bogey with three birdies in the final round says a lot about his desire to compete.”

Berger credits his desire to compete to his father, former professional tennis player Jay Berger, who was ranked seventh in the world in 1990, was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame in 2014 and was one of only three Jews to finish as a finalist at the Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto in 1990.

“It’s a wonderful legacy to have been exposed to tennis by my father. I was raised to be competitive, and knowing what he accomplished helped me set goals for myself,” Berger said.

Berger is the only active Jewish golfer on the PGA circuit who has won a tour- nament. Coincidentally, Morgan Pressel of Boca Raton, Fla., who is the only active Jewish golfer to have won professional tournaments (two) on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) circuit, also has her roots in tennis. Pressel’s uncle is former pro tennis great Aaron Krickstein, who teamed with Jay Berger on the 1990 U.S. Davis Cup team. “There is no doubt that Aaron [Krickstein] and Jay [Berger] understood the physical demands and mental strength needed to succeed in sports and explained that to the next generation, who chose a path in golf,” said Sandra Harwitt, who wrote The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players Of All Time (2014).

“Clearly, both Daniel and Morgan have already achieved success early on in their careers, and I suspect they’ll continue to do so in the future,” Harwitt said.

“The work ethic is so important,” Berger said. “My father would put in five, six hours a day on the court practising tennis, and I told him that I wanted to put in eight hours a day practising golf. Once I knew that I would be willing to put in the time needed to excel in golf, I was convinced that I would do well,” he added.

Berger’s past performance in golf gives the indication of a promising career on the PGA circuit. He finished 10th recently in the 2016 Masters tournament. Prior to Berger’s win in Memphis, his best finish on the tour were 2015 runner-up finishes at both the Honda Classic and the BMW Championship.

Berger started playing golf at age 11 and turned pro in 2013 in his sophomore year at Florida State University. While at FSU, he finished as a runner-up in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s golf championship.

His father is not the only member of the Berger family to excel in sports. Daniel’s grandmother, Roslyn “Cookie” Swift Berger, was a top amateur golfer who was inducted into the Greater Buffalo (N.Y.) Sports Hall Of Fame in 2000.

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