After overcoming so much, some of it his own doing, Joel Dahmen was faced with an ultimatum this past winter.
He was depressed, had barely gotten off the couch in a month and money was running low. His girlfriend gave him two choices.
“She told me I either had to get back on the golf course or get a job,” Dahmen said.
He chose golf. It looks like a great decision. Dahmen won twice on the Canadian PGA Tour this year, was No. 1 on the season money list and earned that Tour’s one full exemption onto the Web.com Tour, the stepping-stone to the PGA Tour.
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If only everything had been so easy for Dahmen, a two-time Class 3A state champion at Clarkston, in the southeast corner of the state. He lost his mother to cancer when he was a junior in high school. He partied himself out of his scholarship at Washington after one golf season, and then when things were finally starting to go well, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
So don’t expect Dahmen to live and die over any putt, no matter how important it is.
“Golf is not life and death,” he said. “I have faced life and death, and golf isn’t that.”
Losing his way
Talent was never a question when it came to Dahmen. Besides winning a pair of state championships in high school, he had also shot a course-record 61 at historic Indian Canyon Golf Course in Spokane.
No wonder he was one of the jewels of UW coach Matt Thurmond’s 2006 recruiting class.
“He always had incredible talent, and he did well the year he was with us,” Thurmond said. “He is the rare kind of player who can pick up a club at any time, and go out and shoot a low score.”
But Dahmen wasn’t ready for UW.
“After my mom died, I was kind of lost for a couple of years,” he said. “Clarkston is a town of about 8,000, and then moving to Seattle, the whole world was at my fingertips. And they took such good care of us at the UW, and treated us so well and everything was so easy. You can say that I partied myself out of school. Bottom line, I didn’t take care of the school part.”
So, for the next few years, he worked and golfed while his three roommates, including Nick Taylor, the former No. 1 amateur in the world who just earned his PGA Tour card, were part of a great UW run.
“That’s probably my biggest regret, that I wasn’t able to be a part of that,” Dahmen said.
Becoming a pro
Dahmen remembers it quite clearly, something of a self-ultimatum in 2010, when he should have been finishing his UW career.
“I just didn’t want to be that 40-year-old guy at the bar telling everyone how good he could have been or how good he was,” Dahmen said. “If I was going to be a golfer, I really had to commit to it.”
Dahmen rounded up some financial backing and turned professional.
But then came the testicular cancer in 2011.
Dahmen’s brother had been diagnosed with the same cancer in 2009 and had recovered. Joel’s was caught in the early stages.
“I knew I was going to beat it,” he said. “I just wanted to get started with the treatment as fast as I could and get back on the course.”
After undergoing chemotherapy, Dahmen returned to golf later that year. But while he played OK on the Canadian PGA Tour for a few years, he did not win and seemed stuck. Then, at the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying school last fall, Dahmen “kind of choked on the final holes and missed advancing by a couple of shots.”
That sent him into the funk that landed him on the couch, and eventually led to the ultimatum from his girlfriend.
If he needed any more motivation, he got it when he happened upon a photo of himself while he was going through chemotherapy.
“It made me appreciate that I was even able to golf,” he said. “I wanted to get on the course.”
After practicing over the winter, Dahmen was optimistic, but even he didn’t expect winning two of his first three events and going wire-to-wire as the money leader on PGA Canada Tour, finishing with $80,992. A new attitude also didn’t hurt.
“I just have a better perspective after what I have gone through,” he said. “I don’t worry about a bad hole or a bad putt. When people were catching up to me on the money list, people would ask me if I was worried, and I wasn’t.”
A new life
Dahmen’s full exemption to the Web.com Tour means he can plot next year’s schedule now. He also said “it’s huge” that he doesn’t have to worry about getting off to a fast start because he is exempt for the entire year, unlike many of the players he will be competing against.
Life these days couldn’t be much better for Dahmen, but he hasn’t forgotten his past.
“I know that I let a lot of people down,” he said. “My coaches, my teammates and my family,” he said.
Dahmen, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., still considers himself a Husky and has received congratulatory text messages from Thurmond.
The cancer shows no sign of returning. Dahmen said he finally has quit worrying.
The road to the Web.com Tour isn’t how Dahmen would have mapped it out, but that’s fine for him.
“I really think if I hadn’t gone through the things that I did, that I would not be where I am today,” he said.
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or firstname.lastname@example.org