Jim Meehan: Clarkston native Joel Dahmen makes entertaining climb up PGA ladder
Raise your hand if you teed it up Tiger Woods for the first time, lit up the Twittersphere and put together the best stretch of golf of your promising career.
All in the last two weeks.
There’s only one guy on the planet that has done that: Joel Dahmen, the Clarkston native who is having a ball on and off the course.
Interesting couple of weeks, Joel? “That’s pretty fair to say,” the 30-year-old deadpanned in a phone interview earlier this week.
Dahmen has been prominent in golf headlines – he’s currently in the top 20 at 7 under at the weather-delayed John Deere Classic – beginning with a memorable weekend at the Quicken Loans National outside Washington D.C.
It started on a steamy Saturday when Dahmen was paired with Woods, who extended his hand on the first tee and said, “Hey, I’m Tiger.”
“I wanted to say, ‘Yeah, no (bleep),’ ” Dahmen cracked. “He couldn’t have been nicer. He was the first to tee off and the place went berserk. Normally, I wait for my name to be called but I was so nervous I rushed over and got my ball on the tee to try to settle down.”
Dahmen got a glimpse into the fan circus that follows Tiger’s every move before the first hole. Dahmen usually sees a small knot of spectators on the range, but this time “it was probably 10 deep and 80 yards long.”
The short walk from the range to the putting green and the putting green to the first tee was another ear-opening experience.
“People all the way,” he said. “You feel like you’re in an arena. I got to the tee just before him and it sounded like I was in the Seahawks stadium. I just turned to my caddy (Geno Bonnalie) and smiled.”
Dahmen saw first-hand the return of Woods’ swing speed and distance.
“I was surprised,” Dahmen said. “I was generally hitting one more club. He hit 3-wood, I’d hit driver. When he hits driver, he hits it past me 40 yards. It was pretty cool to see him make four (birdies) in a row and the putter is raised and he’s walking after it.”
Dahmen, who has played with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, said security did a great job marshalling the huge crowd. Woods cooled off on the back nine and shot a 68.
“He was absolutely a normal playing partner,” said Dahmen, who shot a 69. “We talked about sports, the World Cup, the upcoming schedule. I was so happy I got to do it, but I was so exhausted the next day I don’t think I could have done it again. And he goes through it every day.”
The next day for Dahmen even overshadowed playing with Woods. Dahmen was paired with Sung Kang, whose second shot on No. 10 found a lateral hazard. Dahmen was adamant that Kang’s ball never crossed the hazard, which would have changed where Kang eventually took his drop.
Asked about the situation later on Twitter, Dahmen wrote: “Kang cheated. He took a bad drop from a hazard. I argued until I was blue. I lost.”
It’s extremely rare for a pro to call out a competitor publicly, but Dahmen, a straight shooter on and off the course, obviously felt strongly after witnessing Kang’s shot.
PGA officials told Dahmen the next morning to refrain from further comment while the Tour and Kang issued statements.
The topic came up again last weekend when Dahmen was in the mix at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Dahmen played outstanding golf and, as much as he probably would have loved to talk about the questionable ruling, dutifully referred numerous inquiries to his agent.
He said plenty with his game, which has taken off with six straight top 25 finishes. He’s earned more than $850,000 and sits at No. 108 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Dahmen tied for fifth after rounds of 67-65-67-69.
“I hadn’t felt contention nerves on the tour,” he said. “Contention nerves are different than playing with Tiger on Saturday nerves. Those are the nerves we want. It was a huge step for me to kind of hang around.”
Dahmen took a huge step toward retaining his tour card and qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs (top 125).
“Every stat is showing I’ve improved,” Dahmen said. “I’ve worked hard with (coach) Rob Rashell in Scottsdale (Arizona). We know where we want to get to and that road is never straight, but I feel like we’re putting building blocks in place.”
And enjoying the process along the way.