In praise of Joel Dahmen, underground fantasy legend about to go mainstream
I liked Joel Dahmen before it was cool.
There’s no such thing as a golf hipster, but if there were, Joel Dahmen of 2019 would be my Velvet Underground circa 1965. For two years, I’ve been in the metaphorical front row at all his shows in every dirty, small venue on the PGA Tour, mouthing the words to even his unreleased tracks, and shouting his praises to the idiots at my private message board. “Joel Dahmen is going to be huge,” I’d say, but in my secret heart I hoped the day would never come and he’d remain our obscure hero forever.
This weekend at the Wells Fargo, Dahmen finished second to Max Homa—his best finish ever, just ahead of a slightly less resplendent T-2 at last year’s John Deere Classic. A lot of the people watching on TV probably didn’t know his name, or his age, or where he came from, but I did. Joel Dahmen is 31, he comes from Washington, he’s a cancer survivor who toiled in Canada for a few years before breaking through and earning a Web.com Tour card, and two good years later he was on the PGA Tour for the 2016-’17 season. He didn’t do much that year, but he squeaked through in the Web.com Tour Finals to regain his card for 2017-’18, and that’s when the underground, alternative genius of the artist known as Joel Dahmen truly began to flourish.
Of course, you wouldn’t really know this unless you were part of a giant fantasy league that serves to draw the obsessive attention of people like me, my teammate Jack and our 22 competitors to men like Dahmen. If you were a normie golf fan last year, you know Dahmen (if you knew him at all) as a middle-of-the-pack guy who finished 80th in the FedEx Cup standings, didn’t play in a single major, missed the cut in the two playoff events he made and called out a fellow competitor on tour as a cheater.
But if you were a cutting-edge fantasy maniac, you saw something else: You saw a guy who went undrafted among 120 of his peers, and then lit up the league in the most low-key way possible. You saw him go from late April until the end of July putting up nine top-25 finishes to go along with just two cuts, including a couple top-10s and that T-2 at the Deere. You saw the rest of the league look on my team with envy as Dahmen took a truly godawful collection of golfers on his back and elevated them almost singlehandedly to a third-place finish (in the end, we missed the podium by an excruciatingly small margin). You watched an indie hero lay out hit after hit of unbroken quality while the establishment wouldn’t give him the time of day.
And you also might have watched a guy who wore a bucket hat, sometimes had a mustache and tortured his caddie with one of those Carolina reaper chips. All classic lo-fi hits. And check out his ultra-realist, alt-country bona fides from this quote from last year’s Dell Technologies Championship:
“If I didn’t have cancer, I’d be a washed-up driving range pro telling people how good I used to be. I would be in my little town as an assistant pro. Everyone would love me. I’d do well in [PGA] section stuff and I’d drink too much. I’d be a woulda-coulda-shoulda guy. I’d be telling people for 50 years how good I was.”
A year later in our league, he was drafted—by me again, in the ninth round, with the 105th pick. And then, like an idiot, I dropped him to pick up Scott Brown for the Honda Classic. Dahmen was immediately snatched up by the worst team in the league, and I’ve had to watch like a scorned devotee as he recovered from four missed cuts to reel off the following finishes: T-12 at the Players, T-30 at the Valspar, T-12 in Puerto Rico, T-69 at the Valero, T-16 at the Heritage, and then a straight 2 in Charlotte.
Diamond Joel Dahmen is back, and “better than ever” doesn’t quite cut it. At 29th in the FedEx Cup standings, he can start thinking about making the Tour Championship. In a couple weeks, he’s going to play in his first major at the PGA. He just cracked the top 100 in the World Rankings. I don’t know if this is “selling out,” but he’s definitely holding serious meetings with the major record labels, and soon the quiet fantasy king that we all loved is going to be sprung on the wider world. The hidden gem will be polished and displayed, and we’ll just have to pray, when that happens, that he remembers his real fans.
So from someone who liked him back before he got big, let me offer you all some advice: If you play fantasy golf, draft him. Like the first two albums by The Shins, he’s incredibly consistent, with hardly a dud on the calendar. If you need to pick someone for a PGA Championship pool from the 50-100 category of the World Rankings, and you want someone who won’t shoot 85-85—MC, pick Dahmen. He’ll finish 13th, I guarantee it, even on Bethpage Black.
And one day, when he wins a PGA Tour event and everybody’s cheering and Amanda Balionis interviews him on CBS and his wife races out to hug him on the green, just know that I’ll be smirking at all the johnny-come-lately fans as I put on a giant pair of headphones, cue up video from his 23rd-place finish at the 2018 Quicken Loans and remember what it was like when he played the smoky clubs for free beer.