“It’s an interesting story,” Daniel Berger says. He’s right. How does a range-picker from south Florida turn into one of the best golfers in the world?
“When we moved up to Jupiter, my dad [a former tennis pro] got into contact with Ivan Lendl, who was one of his tennis peers back in the day,” Berger says on this week’s Drop Zone podcast. “And Ivan set us up with the pro at a course called the Dye Preserve in Jupiter. The pro, Matt Doyle, took me under his wing. He gave me a job at the course: I picked the range. Every day. I would set up the range on the weekends and close it down, sunrise to sunset.”
My Drop Zone co-host, Sean Zak, pointed out that a sloppy range setup must bother him to this day.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m gonna go fix it.”
(You can listen to the entire episode with Berger below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean or anywhere you find your podcasts!)
Berger is hardly unique in having grown up in Florida, but his story is different in one fascinating way: He was a kid in Jupiter, which had recently become golf’s international capital. And he wasn’t just a good junior golfer: He was a golf course employee, a range-picker with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. That chip might still sit there.
“I would say that of all the golfers on the PGA Tour, none have ever picked as many ranges as I have in my life,” he says.
It’s a fascinating claim, and begs the question: If Berger’s right, who’s No. 2 on Tour?
Berger says he got lucky to have a dozen or so aspiring Tour pros practicing at the Dye Preserve at the time, including Steve Marino, who took the teenage Berger under his wing, adopted him as a playing partner and helped plunge him headfirst into an extremely high level of golf.
“I understood what it took to get to that level and I was around it so often that when I did get to that level it didn’t feel any different than what I had been through my entire life.”
Still, Berger’s success doesn’t mean he’s lost any blue-collar sensibilities.
“You’re never too good to be picking the range,” he said. “There’s a humility that comes with going back to the golf course and getting back to your roots and just feeling like a kid again.”
But as pro golf’s pre-eminent range-picker, Berger has a PSA for golfers everywhere: Stop hitting balls at the guy in the cart!
“I do not hit stingers at guys picking the range,” he said. “Camilo [Villegas, then a member of Dye Preserve] did that to me one time and the cart that I was driving was like, 20 years old, it was all rusty on the side and he slapped it into the rust, which hit me in the face. After that, I was like, ‘I’m not hitting balls into pickers anymore.’”
So there you have it. Stop firing missiles at the range picker! The cart’s probably older and less bulletproof than you might guess, the driver might be a nervous teenager and that same teenager might go on to become one of the best golfers on the PGA Tour. Better safe than sorry.
For more Berger stories on growing up in Jupiter, betting for money he didn’t have, losing his game and then finding it again, check out this week’s Drop Zone! You won’t be sorry. It’s here on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean or at the embedded player below. Enjoy!
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