Brooklyn, Massachusetts – For at least 16 hours – the time between his last shot on Friday evening and his first shot on Saturday afternoon – Joel Dahmin sat atop the world of professional golf. A kid from Clarkston, Washington, a small town near the Idaho border, shared the lead midway through the US Open after shooting 67-68. He’s a really unexpected contender considering he almost never tried to qualify. Dahmen, among the most self-deprecating players on the PGA Tour, told Athletic Sunday of the memorial that “if I qualified, I’d sign up for my ass.” He said many times that he didn’t think he could win a major. This alone paints him as the classic underdog. But there is a lot to this story.
Dahmin dropped out of the University of Washington in 2006 after one year and began working on a local golf course. These were what the 34-year-old calls his “young and dumb” days. Any money he earns on the golf course will be directed directly toward the beer. His future was a gigantic unknown – but man, can he play. A year after leaving UW, Dahmen was playing a Washington State Amateur training tour when he and fellow Washington Husky-turned PGA Tour teammate Nick Taylor were paired up on a training tour with Brad Yositis, whom his father, Bob, had coached. son that week. (Dahmen went on to win the championship by six shots.) Joel and Bob Eusitis became fast friends, meeting each other at the hotel that week and keeping in touch as their paths diverged. Two years later, when Dahmen decided to turn professional with no money and no clue where to start, Yosaitis agreed to sponsor him.
He says of the chance encounter that changed his life, “Maybe there’s a big word that could describe it perfectly, but all I got was I’m lucky. Super, so lucky. Changed my life.”
For Yosaitis, it was about helping someone he cared about. A former jet fuel trader in Hawaii, he sold his company to Ross Aviation for a profit in 2008. “I’ve been lucky in life, and I have a fair amount of money,” says Yosaitis. “I’ve never looked at him [the deal with Dahmen] Make money. The deal was, I’ll give you the money you need, and I hope you can do a good enough job to repay me. And if you don’t do a good enough job to pay me back, I’ll help you.”
This was him. There are no documents. no strings attached. Yosaitis sent Dahmin $15,000 to kick-start his career. “It was a false dream at the time,” Dahmin says.
The relationship blossomed into something semi-familial. Dahmen played 10 PGA Tour Canada events in 2010 and earned $11,742. But then he noticed a lump in the scrotum. Scans showed testicular cancer, and Dahmen, 23, found himself facing the struggle of his life without health insurance. So he called Uncle Bob.
When he picked up Uncle Bob, Joel was crying. “I was in shock,” says Yossites. “I told the doctor, I want you to have Joel surgery right away. The doctor said there was no insurance to cover that. I said, ‘This is my credit card number.’” working on it.”
Dahmen enjoyed good health and made his way back to the PGA Tour. In six Canadian Tour events in 2011, he made $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 Medal of Merit for his Web.com Tour Card.
During those lean years, between golf expenses and chemotherapy, Eusitis estimates he spent more than $250,000 to support Dahmin. “At the end, I just said, ‘Look, Joel, just take my credit card,'” Eusitis says with a laugh. “I’m too busy to worry about every time you call me and ask me to write a check. I said charge whatever you want.”
Dahmen earned his PGA Tour ticket for the 2016-2017 season at the lowest profit margins, finishing 25th on the Web.com Tour money list and beating out the unlucky 26th, Xander Schauffele, with $975. Five years later, Dahmen won the PGA Tour and grossed over $8.6 million. Uncle Bob watches happily from afar without making a penny.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, if you’re good enough, you’ll always make it,'” says Dahmin. “I don’t know if I’d have tried without Bob.”