Joel Dahmen is the accidental U.S. Open co-leader
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Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
Joel Dahmen interview after Round 2 at U.S. Open
BROOKLINE, Mass. – Joel Dahmen understands the archetype of a professional golfer. Head down. One shot at a time. Stick to the process. Keep outsiders at arm’s length to maintain optimal focus.
But that’s just not Dahmen, no matter how much success he has on the PGA TOUR. He’s normal. Relatable. He’s been through too much to act otherwise. His mom died of cancer when he was in high school. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his early 20s, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy; he’s now cancer-free. He lost his scholarship at the University of Washington after admittedly “partying his way out of school.” He had setbacks at Q-School and struggled with motivation.
Spurred on by encouragement from family and friends, though, Dahmen’s last decade has brought a consistent upward arc. He gained PGA TOUR Canada status in 2014, and he won the Order of Merit to earn Korn Ferry Tour status. He earned his first TOUR card in 2016. He won his first TOUR title at last year’s Corales Puntacana Championship.
Over the last two days, Dahmen has carded rounds of 67-68 at the U.S. Open, and he’s headed to the weekend at 5 under par, tied for the lead with two-time major winner Collin Morikawa. Major champions Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are among a group of five players one stroke back; world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler is just two off the pace. Those guys are the best of the best.
Dahmen is just a regular guy, and proudly so. He once told a reporter that he would never win a major. And while his results midway through the U.S. Open, his ninth career major appearance, suggest that he could be mistaken, he’s kept his sense of humor.
“We don’t tee off until 3:45 (p.m. ET Saturday),” Dahmen said. “I typically have to be home at 5:00 for dinner.”
Dahmen said that at times during Friday’s second round at Brookline, he found himself trying to “almost be a pro golfer … those big guys just keep their head down and keep going.” He caught himself, knowing the potential pitfalls of trying to be someone he’s not. He went back to his instincts, which meant waving to fans and being fully present in his environment.
The 34-year-old Washington native has gained a cult following by being an open book alongside his trusty caddie Geno Bonnalie, a partnership that dates back to the Korn Ferry Tour. Fans delight in Dahmen’s unfussy, everyman humanity.
There was the time he sported a Waffle House hat during a competitive Korn Ferry Tour round in Nashville. There was the time he removed his shirt after saving par on the famed 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open, as did playing partner Harry Higgs, much to the crowd’s delight. There was the time he encouraged Bonnalie to take the One Chip Challenge – eating a chip made with what is regarded as the hottest pepper in the world – during a practice round at THE PLAYERS Championship. The crowd ate it up.
After Thursday’s opening round here, Dahmen said he would need to curb his instincts at a Ben Rector concert in downtown Boston.
“It will be difficult to go to that one and not have 100 beers like we typically do at concerts,” he said.
Whatever he did, it certainly didn’t hurt him Friday. Dahmen made four birdies and two bogeys for a 68. No one has played The Country Club better. And he’s done it his way, remaining true to himself into his sixth TOUR season.
“I’ve always just tried to be myself,” Dahmen said in the twilight Friday. “My rookie year out here, I was not myself. I was trying to be a pro golfer, and that’s not who I am, per se. I like to be a little more laid back and like to have a little more fun, and I have my best friend beside me in Geno, and he is a ton of fun, and he’s fun to be around.
“It’s kind of weird how us just being ourselves and putting it out there for everyone, it’s kind of endearing,” he continued. “It’s pretty cool to have people root for you.”
Dahmen earned his U.S. Open spot via Final Qualifying, finishing with a 6-under total through 36 holes at the Columbus, Ohio site, one stroke clear of a playoff. The week before the qualifier, he told his wife Lona he wouldn’t try it. During the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, he said he wouldn’t try it.
But he played decent at Muirfield Village, finishing T32, and logistical factors propelled him to play the “Longest Day in Golf.”
“I felt bad because Geno didn’t switch his flight when he could have gotten home Sunday night,” Dahmen quipped. “So at that point, I had to stick it out.”
The weekend at a major championship provides an audience unlike that at a normal golf event. Odds are, countless fans will be introduced to Dahmen throughout Saturday afternoon’s coverage.
Odds are, they’ll like what they see.
“It is unbelievable to me, how many people know my name or yell for me out there,” Dahmen said. “It’s weird. I’m getting recognized a little more off the golf course, which, my wife will look at me like, ‘What is happening?’
“It’s not normal. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it, but it comes with good golf.”
This week so far, great golf.
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.