BROOKLINE, Mass. – For at least 16 hours – the time between his last putt Friday night and his first tee shot Saturday afternoon – Joel Dahmen sat atop the professional golf universe. A kid from Clarkston, Washington, a small town near the Idaho border, shared the lead midway through the U.S. Open after shooting 67-68. He’s a really unlikely contender considering he almost didn’t even try to qualify. Dahmen, among the most self-deprecating guys on the PGA Tour, told Athletic Memorial Sunday that “if I qualify, I just sign up to get my ass kicked.” He has said several times that he doesn’t believe he can win a major tournament. That alone paints him as the classic underdog. But there is so much more to this story.
Dahmen left the University of Washington in 2006 after a year and started working at a local golf course. It was what the 34-year-old calls his “young and stupid” days. Any money he made at the golf course would go directly to beer. His future was an unknown giant, but man, could he play. A year after leaving UW, Dahmen was playing a practice tour for the Washington State Amateur when he and fellow Washington Husky-turned-PGA Tour player Nick Taylor were paired up on a practice tour with Brad Yosaitis, whose father, Bob, was caddying for his son that week. (Dahmen won the tournament by six strokes). Joel and Bob Yosaitis became fast friends, seeing each other at the hotel that week and keeping in touch as their paths diverged. Two years later, when Dahmen decided to turn pro with no money and no idea where to start, Yosaitis agreed to sponsor him.
“There’s probably a big word that’s perfect to describe it,” he says of the chance encounter that changed his life, “but all I got was luck. Super, super lucky. Changed my life.”
For Yosaitis, it was about helping someone he cared about. A former jet fuel trader based in Hawaii, he sold his business to Ross Aviation for a lucrative sum in 2008. “I’ve been lucky in life and have quite a bit of money,” says Yosaitis. “I never looked [the deal with Dahmen] like making money. The deal was, I’ll give you the money you need, and I hope you do well enough to pay me back. And if you don’t do well enough to repay me, I will have helped you.
That was it. No document. No strings attached. Yosaitis fired Dahmen $15,000 to launch his career. “A chimera at the time,” says Dahmen.
The relationship blossomed into something almost family-like. Dahmen played in 10 PGA Tour Canada events in 2010 and earned $11,742. But then he noticed a lump on his scrotum. CT scans showed testicular cancer and Dahmen, 23, found himself facing the fight of his life without health insurance. So he called Uncle Bob.
When Uncle Bob picked up, Joel was in tears. “I was in shock,” Yosaitis says. “I told the doctor, I want you to operate Joel right away. The doctor said there was no insurance to cover it. So I said, ‘Here’s my credit card number. Operate it.
Dahmen regained his health and returned to his winding journey to the PGA Tour. In six Canadian Tour events in 2011, he earned $11,225. He failed to break the $12,000 barrier again in 2012. Then something clicked in 2013 ($22,528), and the real breakthrough came the following year when he won the Order of Tour Merit to earn their Web.com Tour Card.
During those lean years, between golf expenses and chemotherapy treatments, Yosaitis estimates he spent more than $250,000 to support Dahmen. “Finally,” Yosaitis said with a laugh, “I just said, ‘Look, Joel, just take my credit card.’ I’m too busy to worry every time you call asking me to write a check I said load whatever you want.
Dahmen earned his PGA Tour card for the 2016-17 season by the narrowest of margins, finishing 25th on the Web.com Tour money list and beating unlucky No. 26 Xander Schauffele by $975. Five years later, Dahmen is a PGA Tour winner and has earned over $8.6 million. And Uncle Bob is watching happily from afar without having made a penny of profit.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, if you’re good enough, you’ll always make it,'” Dahmen says. “I don’t know if, without Bob, I would have even tried.”