Clarkston native Joel Dahmen stays grounded while rapidly climbing PGA Tour ladder
Joel Dahmen is in his Scottsdale, Arizona, home with his dog, Murphy, who is getting in more cardio than his owner, who is getting the stink eye from the new Peloton stationary bike in a nearby room.
It’s a Wednesday morning, a few days after the Clarkston native placed second at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier this month. The PGA Tour wires checks on Wednesdays and $853,200 is heading Dahmen’s way, his biggest payday by nearly $500,000.
“It’s ridiculous,” Dahmen says. “I grew up very blue collar in Eastern Washington. My dad busted his butt at the pulp and paper mill for 38 years. My mom was a schoolteacher. It’s all just so crazy. I think I’ve made $3.7 million in the last 2 1/2 years.”
So a spending spree must be inevitable, right? Maybe some sporty new wheels, schedule private jets the rest of the season, mix in a lavish vacation or two and…
“I bought a car last year, but it was used,” Dahmen said. “A 2017 Ford Explorer, 25,000 miles. Perfect for us, we’re never home. We bought a house but we haven’t done anything crazy. My wife (Lona) does an incredible job of keeping us grounded.”
Dahmen’s attempt at a first-class upgrade lipped out at the ticket counter, so he spent the long flight home from Charlotte in seat 34A. He tweeted out a picture with his legs jammed against the back of seat 33A, captioned: “Incredible (last) week! It’s Monday though, and life humbles you quickly. #beerplease”
Humor aside, that is something Dahmen already knows.
“I don’t think I’ve ever bled from golf,” he said, “but I’ve definitely had tears.”
It’s been a long, challenging journey for Dahmen, who is making a lot of noise in his third year on the PGA Tour, soaking up every moment along the way and thankful for his unique life and golf path. He says he wouldn’t change a thing, good or bad, because it has led him to this point.
Every one of those experiences shaped the person and the player ranked 80th in the world, 35th in FedEx Cup points. The grind after lasting one year in college, endless road trips on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, a battle with cancer and scrapping on the Web.com Tour to earn his spot on the PGA Tour makes present-day success taste that much sweeter.
“After good weeks, it’s nice to reflect back and, holy cow, not too many years ago I was wondering if I should continue to do this,” said Dahmen, never one to sugarcoat his opinions. “I certainly think I’m more appreciative of life on tour. We all have our ups and downs, but it’s just on different levels. You can walk into the clubhouse and they feed you incredible food. People are waiting on you hand and foot, and it’s really easy to fall into the PGA trap.
“Every time I get a little close to doing that, Lona or (caddie) Geno (Bonnalie) will snap me back into reality. That’s why we have so much fun out there (on tour). I hope I never lose that. I hope it’s really special if I’m on the tour in 10 years.”
Dahmen’s talent was obvious early on. He won 3A state championships as a Clarkston High freshman and senior. He had a promising season as a freshman at Washington, but not so much in other aspects of college life.
“I was basically a lost 18- or 19-year-old who left Clarkston to a big city and got swallowed up,” Dahmen recalled. “Most of that was the passing of my mom (when he was a junior at Clarkston). I didn’t grieve her death, I just pushed it away. When I got (to UW) I had nothing around me and I just lost it. I played great golf. I didn’t go to class. I tried to skate by and I had a lot of growing up to do.”
Dahmen stayed in the Seattle area for a while, living with Nick Taylor, a former Husky teammate now in his fifth year on the PGA Tour. Dahmen won the 2007 Washington State Amateur and played in many of the bigger amateur events, but he ran out of money and moved back home.
He set out for the Mackenzie Tour in the spring of 2010, driving from tournament to tournament and carrying his own sticks for the first 36 holes each week to keep costs down. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in February 2011, but returned to the tour following chemotherapy treatments.
Dahmen has methodically scaled the ladder on three different tours. He was the 2014 Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year, earning a promotion to the Web.com Tour. It took two seasons to graduate from the Web.com to the PGA Tour, but his conditional status limited him to 16 PGA events in 2017.
Dahmen closed the 2018 season with a strong second half, including a tie for second at the John Deere Classic. He’s already surpassed his 2018 earnings in 10 fewer events this season. He has a pair of top 10s and seven top 25s.
Dahmen cracked the top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. He tied for 12th at the Players Championship before a three-week run of T-16 at the RBC Heritage, T-18 at the Zurich Classic and second at the Wells Fargo Championship. He made the cut at the PGA Championship, his first major.
The 31-year-old is playing his best golf by virtually every indicator. He has improved his swing, his consistency and his mental approach. His stats – the tour charts everything – are trending up, with driving accuracy (nearly 69%) rating 20th.
Dahmen made good money his first two seasons and placed high in numerous tournaments, but he’s taken another step forward in 2019, competing for titles and learning how to deal with Sunday back-nine pressure.
“It was a ton of fun (in Charlotte), that’s why we play, that’s why we put so many hours in,” Dahmen said. “We’ve been doing this since I was real young, and it’s kind of always been the dream to get in that position and perform well over the weekend. I certainly didn’t beat myself, so I can walk away pretty happy.”
His confidence is growing.
“I had some good finishes,” Dahmen said. “I’ve hung around and faded a little on the weekend. That’s not being as free as the first few days. It’s something you have to learn. Your body changes, thoughts going through your head change. You have to manage those and play through those. (Charlotte) was definitely a breakthrough. You have to play great golf, but you don’t have to play perfect golf.”
Other factors are at work, though Dahmen can’t point to one specific reason. Lona and Bonnalie keep him focused and his to-do list manageable. He’s benefited from 4 to 5 years of working with Rob Rashell, director of instruction at TPC Scottsdale.
“No question, I’ve gotten better mechanically,” Dahmen said.
Rashell, Oregon State golf coach Jon Reehoorn and Bonnalie assist Dahmen with his mental approach, strategy and course management.
“I don’t know if his skill is a whole lot better,” said Bonnalie, who has caddied for Dahmen since 2015. “It’s more his mind and his thinking and his patience. His short game has improved and he’s always driven the ball extremely well. His confidence with the putter has steadily gotten better and better.
“His attitude, there’s always room for improvement. He gets down on himself sometimes and I’m like, ‘Don’t quit, we’re fine.’ At the Players, I think we were in fourth place on Friday and he made two bogeys and dropped down somewhere between 15 and 20 and in his mind he was missing the cut. I’m telling him, ‘Hey, we’re in 16th on Friday at the Players.’ ”
“We have a different strategy than some other players,” Dahmen added. “When I stick to the game plan and I’m patient and really believe in myself, it works best for me.”
And then there’s the working out. Or, for the longest time, the not working out.
Dahmen isn’t kidding when he estimates he went 11 years between workouts. He took measures to start exercising last winter by purchasing a Peloton, but ran into a self-motivation issue.
“It stares at me when I’m on the couch,” Dahmen cracked. “It works for my wife.”
Dahmen has been fortunate to avoid serious injury throughout his career, but he finally hired a trainer who travels and works with a handful of pros at tour stops.
“I hate every second of it, but I’m waking up feeling pretty good,” Dahmen said. “My back moves a little better, my neck moves. For a golfer to have their body feel the same way it makes it easier to swing the club the same way.
“I’m not going to all of the sudden be looking like Rory (McIlroy) or (Brooks) Koepka, but if I can swing 3 or 4 miles an hour faster, there’s a lot of benefits to it. I need my body to be functional for the next 15, 25 years.”
Functional applies to other areas of his life. For now, it’s Holiday Inns and Marriotts with an occasional rental house on the road, maybe an upgrade on selected longer flights. He points out it’s basically top-50 players boarding private jets.
And for now, it’s about playing great golf and enjoying the ride. He’s been known to chat on the putting green with McIlroy or Tiger Woods, then saunter over and under his breath tell Bonnalie: “Tiger just gave me a high-five.”
“It’s so stinking cool (on the tour),” Dahmen says.