BROOKLINE, Mass.; – You probably don’t know Joel Dahmen. But you probably feel like you do.
Dahmen’s coming off his opening round at the US Open and he’s eager to chat about a game he just tried for the first time. It’s like a cornhole, but you play it while you’re in the pool. The fact that you’re floating, he says, makes it tougher to dial in your tosses.
A reporter asks him if he means treading water the whole time. He laughs.
“No, no. You’re on a floatie, ”he says. “We’re not actually athletes. ”
You have a buddy just like him. Killer instinct in a backyard competition. Willing to tip back a cold one or five. Competitive but self-deprecating. Always good for a good time. The difference is that your buddy is not contending at the US Open.
It’s Thursday and Dahmen struts its way into the press center. He grins out at the small group of assembled media. He’s just finished off the opening round of three-under 67, which leaves him tied for first with Rory McIlroy and two others.
A media official opens the presser. Three birdies in your last five holes. What did you find towards the end of the round?
“The easier holes on the golf course.”
That’s the key to the Cult of Joel. Self-effacing. Quick with a comeback. Genuinely funny. And undeniably effective with golf club in hand. There’s a reason Netflix’s cameras followed Thursday’s round. Everyone wants to know Dahmen a little bit better. Just a few minutes on Thursday teaches us three elemental things about him.
The first is that he’s deeply, unavoidably humble. That’s the reason he’s so quick to be self-deprecating. It’s a lesson Dahmen says he learned from his father on road trips in Clarkston, a small eastern Washington town that sits near the Idaho border.
“I remember vividly some car rides coming home after a tournament, junior winner or whatever, and it was like, you don’t talk about yourself. You let people ask you questions. That kind of thing, ”he says.
Now it’s an unmistakable feature of his personality. Even as he’s asked about the topic itself, about being self-deprecating, Dahmen can’t help but toss himself a little jab.
“Look, it’s pretty easy to shoot 76 or 77 out there [Friday] and all of a sudden you’re in 40th again, ”he says.
The second thing is that Dahmen is competitive as hell. It’s no accident that it’s the leaderboard at Brookline, even though it claimed on Tuesday that finishing top 25 would be a successful week. He talks a small game but it’s clear he has big-time belief.
“I love participating,” he says. “I am the greatest backyard game player in the world. Max Homa will tell you differently. But darts, cornhole, I would put myself against anyone, especially on the PGA Tour. I just love being competitive. ”
There are some venues where he doesn’t think he can compete. The US Open at Winged Foot in 2020 was one such example. “I didn’t have a fighting chance there,” he says. But when he feels like he say compete, it’s game on. That’s the case this week.
“I’m not hitting 4-iron or hybrid into every hole; there’s wedges out there. You can get to the par-5, No. 8, that stuff, ”he says. “It’s not just a hit-as-far-as-you-can-type contest.”
Dahmen’s not much good at those kinds of contests – he’s just 160th in driving distance – and while he spends the time taking care of his body, you can’t mistake him for Brooks Koepka. When he gets in contention, though, he has a solid record of rising to the occasion.
“Do I believe in myself? Yeah, ”he says. “If you look at my game and what I am doing for six years and play this well, that’s probably ‘overachieving,’ some would say.
“I wasn’t All-American. I wasn’t the best. It’s just understanding who I am and where I’m at. Rocco Mediate took Tiger to 91 holes; I think I can do okay. ”
That’s our last lesson on Dahmen: He’s appreciative for the opportunity. Rather than downplaying the fact that he finished his first round, he admits he makes him proud.
“Absolutely. Why not? ” he says. “Is it a cooler way to finish in the lead on Sunday? Yeah. It’s still cool as a kid who grew up in Clarkston, Washington, to be like, man, he’s leading the US Open, that’s kind of a cool deal? For sure. ”
Dahmen’s biggest challenge for Thursday night, he admits, is actually limiting himself. Ben Rector has a concert at the Boston Pavilion.
“I got to meet [Ben] in Pebble this year, and he is in town tonight, ”he says. “It is going to be difficult for one to not have 100 beers like we typically do at concerts.”
In other words, Dahmen isn’t letting the fame of a first-round near-lead get to his head. He doesn’t expect to get mobbed at the Pavilion. It’ll take a while to get up late, so it can sleep some time in the morning. Then he’ll take on The Country Club – and see if he can do it again.