Daniel Berger, seeking the most important victory in his burgeoning career, had a nine-shot lead heading into the final round of the Dixie Amateur.
Not to worry?
Well, maybe just a little bit, but in the end Berger had everything tidily wrapped up, winning the tournament by 13 strokes.
He shot a mind-boggling, 22-under-par with rounds of 63-67-65-70 for a 265 total, and he basically could stroll the fairways of the Heron Bay Golf Club in Coral Springs and admire the wildlife en route to the championship.
However, getting distracted is not in his nature, so he just kept grinding, not thinking about that crystal trophy until he could hold it above his head for what he called, “Certainly, the biggest victory of my life.”
Berger, a Florida State golfer, refused to take his recent success for granted.
“The way I approached it was win by as much as I can,” he said of the fourth round.
“It was a damage-control round. I was playing aggressively smart.”
Tom Lovelady of Birmingham, Ala., finished second, and Richard Werenski of South Hadley, Mass., finished third.
It was not a bad day or week for that matter for the ex-tennis player from Jupiter.
Berger was introduced to tennis by his father early in life but developed a passion for golf.
That meant saying so long to aces and net cords and exchanging them for birdies and bogeys.
“By far the smartest decision of my life,” Berger said of changing sports. “Also, to be a Florida State Seminole is fantastic.”
A year ago, Berger finished second in the Dixie Amateur to Curtis Thompson, finishing up as friends with a caveat.
Maybe a big caveat.
That would be the competitive angst between them.
“Curtis is a great guy, but on the course I still want to beat the heck out of him,” Berger said.
That also works in the opposite direction.
For his great showing in the tournament, Berger gave credit to his putter.
“To have that feeling that you’re going to make a putt, that’s really nice,” he said
Also, in a roundabout way, he gave credit to his mental path.
“We’re competitive,” he said of him and his family. “That’s just the way we are.”
Of course, Friday there wasn’t much competitiveness.
That’s what happens when you go out and win by 13 strokes.
“Just put the metal to the pedal,” Berger said.
South beach event
Winds of up to 25 mph at Miami Beach Golf Club couldn’t have come at a worse time for golfers on the leaderboard heading into the final round of the South Beach International Amateur.
Several were disturbed by the conditions, but one player in particular would not be affected.
With a calm demeanor that served as the antithesis to the swirling winds, University of Arizona product and Mexican-born Juan Pablo Hernandez took home the trophy of the second-year event with a 3-under 68 in the final round.
He finished with a score of 273, which was enough to top Winter Springs’ Hank Lebioda, the runner-up, by four strokes.
“I played solid all day,” said Hernandez, who entered the round tied for second with Ryan Burgess, a stroke behind Hannes Ronneblad. “It was hard out there, but I just kept fighting all day, made some good putts, hit some good shots.”
The shot that put him over the top came when he eagled the par-5 12th hole with a 25-foot chip shot from down a hill. It gave him a five-stroke lead with six holes to play and allowed him to play conservative the rest of the way.
“That kept me going,” Hernandez said. “That chip-in on 12 was a booster.”
Hernandez shot even par the rest of the way.
Even while playing conservatively, he was able to sink a 30-foot putt on No. 16 for birdie that proved to spectators it was his day and that he could do nothing wrong.
Hernandez, 21, a senior at Arizona, said it was the first tournament he has been able to win in “three or four” years since he won a national junior golf event in Mexico.
It was not an easy field for him to conquer.
The South Beach International Amateur, which began with 198 high-end players, consisted of 70 international amateurs from 24 countries.
That’s the largest international contingency in an American amateur tournament — the next highest was the U.S. Amateur with 49 international players.
Hernandez will look to carry his momentum into the spring semester of golf with his fellow Wildcats.
He hopes to one day turn professional and said the SBIA victory will do a lot for his confidence that he can accomplish that.
For now, he will return home to his parents, who could not make the trip to watch him play, with a giant glass trophy for the holiday season.
Germany’s Alexander Marlari shot a 3-under 68 on Trump National’s Blue Monster course to take the first-round lead in the 16-18 division of the Doral Publix Classic that continues Saturday and Sunday with free admission for the public.
The older age groups teed off in three-club wind at the 31st annual tournament, which is played at the newly renamed Trump National Doral.
The event is commonly known as the World’s Largest Junior Golf Tournament, as 48 nations are represented.