Why Joel Dahmen and his caddie stole the show on Full Swing once again

Pro golfer Joel Dahmen sits on private jet during Netflix's Full Swing

Joel Dahmen's Full Swing episode reached a fascinating point while on a private jet ride with his caddie Geno Bonnalie.

Full Swing / Netflix

It had been quite a while since I last saw Geno Bonnalie. That can happen in the golf world where everyone is Go, Go, Go. Schedules don’t match up. For us, it had been five months. 

Bonnalie was down at the RSM Classic during the final week of the PGA Tour fall season, but the golfer he caddies for, Joel Dahmen, was nowhere to be found. Geno was looping for Mark Hubbard, it turns out, whose normal caddie had wedding duties to tend to. Joel’s season didn’t have to be over, but he was brought in that week as an analyst for The Netflix Cup in Vegas, the streaming giant’s first foray into live sports. 

Dahmen did quite well in that role, too, and anyone who knows him wouldn’t be surprised. Bonnalie sure wasn’t. Dahmen can talk golf with the best of ‘em. So that morning in St. Simons Island, in the moments before Bonnalie looped for another pro, we talked about Dahmen’s great broadcasting prospects. Left unsaid was something Kevin Kisner is learning right now as he auditions for NBC’s vacant analyst role: you don’t want your broadcasting prospects to be too good. Because they’re always pitted in comparison to your playing prospects (or what’s left of them). And in the middle of November 2023, Dahmen’s playing prospects had tumbled. Thus is the crux of the third (and best) episode in the second season of Full Swing, which is released today. When I found Bonnalie in coastal Georgia, he was anxious about that, because Netflix had been rolling the entire time.

Thanks to a starring role in the first season, Dahmen became considerably more famous, basically overnight. Not worldly-renowned, per se, but very Golf Famous. To the point where more fans were yelling his name at tournaments than players with much, much stronger pedigrees. He and Bonnalie regularly found hundreds of fans lining up, asking for photos and autographs where they weren’t bothered in years past. This time a year ago, Dahmen was already wrestling with that newfound fame, telling’s James Colgan that he felt “like Rickie Fowler” during the 2023 Players Championship. 

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As much as that may seem exhilarating to the laymen, it came at a time where Dahmen’s form dipped. His major championships came and went with a 69th-place finish at the PGA Championship and a missed cut at the U.S. Open. He missed five straight cuts in June and July. There were just two top 10s in 2023. 

“Me being famous, having all the popularity, and playing the worst golf of my career — uh, it sucks,” Dahmen said in the first few minutes of his Full Swing episode this season. You’d struggle to find a more telling synopsis. Playing poorly outside the public eye is one thing. Doing so under the flood lights of fame is another. 

On that episode, just a few minutes later: “How do I feel about sports psychologists?” Dahmen asked aloud, on camera. “I am definitely resistant to a sports psychologist.” 

The magic of Netflix green-lighting a PGA Tour docu-series is that stories like Dahmen’s are everywhere. It’s up to the producers to find them, but in any given full-field week, there are 144 stories in the tournament. And 40-plus tournaments per season. For every Joel Dahmen working through some things, there is bound to be a Wyndham Clark triumphing on the other side. Shortly after Dahmen admitted to his hesitancy about sports psychs, the episode spun right into Clark, whose work with a sports psychologist is the main reason — in his words — that he continues to be a pro golfer, period. 

Why was is so easy for Clark, and far more difficult for Dahmen? It’s a perfect dilemma for an episode of a sports doc. Because the best iterations of that content genre not only explain the tedious things that everyone close to the sport already knows, but also add context that even industry insiders couldn’t know. Bonnalie knew, of course, but I didn’t. It’s easy to see now why he was anxious, because he knew what they had gone through. He knew what was said in private was now going to be broadcast to the world. Each day that passed was another day closer to Season 2 airing, completely out of their control. How would it look?

Bonnalie knew that their episode would be revealing, but were they really going to use the moment where Holly Bonnalie, sitting off-camera, chimed in with some very real thoughts on Dahmen working through trauma from his past? Yes. And the teary-eyed, frank conversation he and Dahmen had that ended in a quasi-ultimatum on how to move forward? Yep, that’s in there, too.

It now makes a lot of sense why Bonnalie was very interested to see how they’d be portrayed this time around. Because of all the characters on the show, their plight was still the most unknown. How comfortable can you really feel when your strongest friendship is pushed into its most vulnerable position, and people behind the camera are shipping that footage off to editors in another city to produce a documentary that will be viewed by millions? That is the main reason the third episode is the best episode of Season 2. It’s all about vulnerability, caring for the human behind the golfer, understanding shortcomings and talking about them out loud.

As viewers will see throughout the second season, numerous episodes end with an uplifting, real payoff. The cameras were there for much of the championship season, but the final two or three minutes show the main characters triumphing at some tournament months later. You don’t get that with Dahmen’s episode because it hasn’t happened yet. But when it does, we’ll all understand it a helluva lot better. And that’s why we watch.

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