Jim Meehan: Former Clarkston standout Joel Dahmen gets shot on PGA Tour
How many times did you bury a jump shot on the playground as a youngster and imagine it was to win the NBA Finals? Or drain a 10-foot putt to envision winning the U.S. Open?
Former Clarkston High standout Joel Dahmen is living out a dream this week. He’s teeing it up for the first time with the PGA big boys at the RBC Canadian Open.
“It’s something I’ve talked about since I started playing when I was 2,” Dahmen said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Dahmen reached this milestone the old-fashioned way. He dominated the first six events on PGA Tour Canada. The 26-year-old won twice and leads the money list, the latter landing him a spot in the Canadian Open field.
So he’s been in Montreal for the week, trying to decipher road signs in French, signing autographs for young spectators and waiting out a rainstorm on a bench with Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez.
“They were telling funny stories,” Dahmen said. “They just treated me like one of the guys.”
He even had a news-tent interview Tuesday led by a moderator. Pretty heady stuff for Dahmen, who is trying to keep it all in perspective. To that end, it helped that he caddied for buddy Darren Wallace at the 2011 Canadian Open and got used to seeing some of the PGA’s top players on the range and in the locker room.
It helped getting a pass and being inside the ropes at the 2008 U.S. Open as a spectator. It helped playing with PGA regulars in the offseason in Scottsdale, Arizona. It helped that he’s played some rounds with Graham DeLaet, ranked 38th in the world.
What really helps is Dahmen is playing great golf. That was the case again on Thursday as he fired a bogey-free, 4-under 66 in the opening round. He’s tied for fifth on a leaderboard that has several Northwest connections: western Washington’s Michael Putnam (64, co-leader) and Kyle Stanley (65, T-3) and Spokane’s Alex Prugh (67, T-16), who was a senior at the University of Washington when Dahmen was a freshman.
“I’m going to be nervous that it’s my first (PGA event), but I expect to play well,” Dahmen said. “I have a lot confidence right now and I played well in the practice rounds.”
Prior to this breakout season, Dahmen had played four years on the Canadian tour with mixed results. He had several top-10 finishes and cracked the top 25 on the money list last year but hadn’t found sustained success.
The low point came last December. He was staring at the TV, down on his golf game and struggling to pay the bills. He didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas.
His girlfriend, Lona, didn’t mince words.
“She kicked me in the butt,” Dahmen said. “It was, ‘Hey look, are you going to get a job or play golf?’ ”
Fair question. Dahmen picked golf, and made a commitment to improve. He took a lesson for the first time in years, complete with video analysis. He made a minor swing change that has helped him handle the heat when he’s in contention on the back nine on Sunday.
“I didn’t contemplate quitting, but I was wondering where my career was going,” Dahmen said. “It’s been more of a mental switch. I decided I was good enough and sick of finishing fourth at a tournament or 20th on the money list. I just buckled down.”
Dahmen won the PC Financial Open, the first event of the season, by one shot with a birdie on No. 18. Two events later in Alberta he shot 22 under to become the first wire-to-wire PGA Tour Canada winner since 2008. He’s coming off a fifth-place finish last week.
PGA Tour Canada is the equivalent of Double-A baseball. The Web.com Tour is Triple-A and the PGA Tour is the major leagues. PGA Tour Canada’s year-end money leader earns full status on the Web.com. Save for the likes of Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler, many tour regulars graduate from PGA Tour Canada and the Web.com.
“Even if you’re the No. 1 draft pick in baseball you’re probably going to start out in the minors,” said Dahmen, who has scored in the 60s in 17 of 24 PGA Tour Canada rounds.
Dahmen continues to pay his dues, but this week he’s taking advantage of a chance to swing on the big stage. It is the culmination of a dream and incentive to dream bigger.