BROOKLINE, Mass. — At the U.S. Open’s halfway point, Joel Dahmen is your tournament co-leader.
Pretty good for a guy who almost didn’t sign up.
Two weeks ago, Dahmen finished T32 at the Memorial Tournament. He was scheduled to play in U.S. Open Final Qualifying the next day in nearby Columbus, but he was planning not to. What was the point?
“I told my wife I wasn’t going to do it. Then I was tired at Memorial and said I wasn’t going to do it,” Dahmen said after a second-round 68. “I was never really going to do it until I sort of played better at Memorial and the game was there. My coach, Rob Rashell, came out and things started to trend in the right direction.”
The tiebreaker, he says, was his caddie Geno Bonnalie’s travel plans.
“I felt bad because he didn’t switch his flight when he could have got home Sunday night, so at that point I had to stick it out,” Dahmen said.
That night, Dahmen went bowling. He had a good time. It’s not like there was much at stake — in his mind, even if he qualified, what was the point? He’d played in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and missed the cut both places. He’s played eight major championships, posting one T10 and zero other top-40s.
“If I qualify, I’m just signing up to get my ass kicked,” he told Brendan Quinn of the Athletic.
So Dahmen showed up in Columbus, Bonnalie by his side. He battled through his morning round, overcoming a triple bogey with five birdies to post 1-under 71. After refueling at lunch he hit every green in regulation in the afternoon session, shot five-under 66 and finished one shot clear of a playoff. He was into the field at Brookline.
He didn’t ditch the self-deprecating shtick once he was on property; Dahmen said in a GOLF.com interview that a top 25 would be a great week. But when he played the course he did acknowledge that this was no Winged Foot. This was a place he could compete.
“You still have to hit it great, and you still have to be in the right spots, but this is like everyone can play this golf course, from Brian Stuard to myself to the long players. Even myself, I hit multiple 3-woods off the tee, hit a hybrid on 9. It’s not just a hit-as-far-as-you-can-type contest.”
The numbers back him up. Through two rounds, Dahmen has hit 21 of 28 fairways, second-best in the field. He’s hit 28 of 36 greens, tied for first in the field. He’s just 41st in driving distance but sixth in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and fourth in strokes gained approaching the green. That adds up to five under par, T1.
In other words, he did qualify. He’s not getting his ass kicked. And he’s glad he signed up for the qualifier in Columbus.
“I’m incredibly happy now, for sure,” he said, looking reflective. “Yeah, I mean, sometimes you take for granted what you have out here a little bit. I think this is my eighth or ninth major championship, and you think not long ago I would have done a lot of things to play in one, and to think that I have an opportunity just to skip one, kind of looking back, even this whole week, you don’t appreciate it, really.”
Dahmen actually seems better than most of his peers when it comes to appreciating the Tour life he has. He knows nothing is guaranteed. That’s why he’s committed to authenticity — it seems to be what works best.
“I’ve always just tried to be myself, I guess,” he said. “My rookie year out here I was not myself. I was trying to be a pro golfer, and that’s not who I am, per se. I’m a little more laid back and like to have a little more fun, and I have my best friend beside me in Geno, and he is a ton of fun to be around.”
There’s no guarantee of anything on the weekend. Dahmen knows that. He repeatedly cautioned that as nice as a 36-hole lead is, it can all go away pretty fast.
“This is really cool, but it’s really all for naught if you go lay and egg on the weekend,” he said. “This is fun, but it would be really fun if I was doing this again Saturday and Sunday.”
He’ll get that chance beginning at 3:45 p.m. ET.