Joel Dahmen-Geno Bonnalie combination produces laughs, memories and success on PGA Tour
No official stats track the pro-caddie tandem having the most fun on and off the PGA Tour, but Joel Dahmen and Geno Bonnalie might be the leaders in the clubhouse.
They share a ton of laughs, rarely bicker, and the pairing of longtime friends has elevated Dahmen to new heights on the tour.
Want proof? Well, there’s Bonnalie’s letter five years ago offering his caddie services to Dahmen. And Bonnalie’s hilarious tweet to Rory McIlroy proposing to tote his clubs. And Bonnalie losing a bet to Dahmen and having to consume an inferno-infused chip.
And Bonnalie’s degloving speech at Dahmen’s wedding. And Bonnalie breaking Dahmen’s course record. And Dahmen caddying for Bonnalie. And Bonnalie setting a Guinness World Record. And Bonnalie’s Saab story.
There’s obviously a lot of ground to cover, but first some background. This friendship started as youngsters in the Lewiston-Clarkston valley. Bonnalie needed a partner for a two-man tournament in Grangeville and asked Dahmen.
“I think I was 12 and he was probably 15 or 16,” Dahmen said. “It was an overnight deal and my dad did some research around town and figured out they were a nice family.”
Of course, they won the tournament. They played a lot more golf together and their paths kept crossing. They hung out in Seattle when Bonnalie was interning at Sahalee Country Club as part of Idaho’s PGA Golf Management Program and Dahmen played on Washington’s golf team.
Dahmen gave pro golf a shot in 2010 on the Mackenzie (Canadian) Tour, won the order of merit in 2014 and moved on to the 2015 Web.com Tour. They had stayed in touch, with Bonnalie closely monitoring Dahmen’s career.
Bonnalie was ready for a career change and emailed a letter to Dahmen that would change both of their futures.
‘I’ve believed since you were a little tyke at Clarkston that you were going to make the big time.’
Bonnalie explained in great detail why he was applying to be Dahmen’s caddie, including his plan to sell his truck, purchase a Honda and remodel it as a home on wheels.
Dahmen was impressed but not convinced. Bonnalie had an infant son, Hudson, and Dahmen knew steady paychecks might be scarce. The golfer estimated they wouldn’t break even 75% of Web.com weeks.
Bonnalie didn’t know quite where it stood for weeks until they reached the first green while playing in Lewiston.
“On the first hole, he’s behind a tree and hits a high hook around it on the green and says, ‘If you’re going to be my caddie you have to get used to me doing crazy stuff,’ ” said Bonnalie, signaling he officially had the job. “I took the vow of poverty.”
“There were a lot of lean times, but we stuck together,” Dahmen said. “The craziest thing about Geno is even when I didn’t believe in myself, he always did. It’s a really cool thing to have your best friend out there and to be in cool moments like finishing second (earlier this month) in Charlotte.”
Noticing McIlroy was looking for a caddie a few years ago, Bonnalie took to Twitter with his tongue-in-cheek application. His email to Dahmen was poignant. The tweet to McIlroy was comedic gold.
A sample: “Please don’t think I’m sneaking around behind Joel’s back trying to get another job. I think Joel himself may also be applying for the position.”
It blew up on Twitter and triggered chuckles in the golf world, but the story didn’t end there. Dahmen and McIlroy were paired months later in San Diego. Leaving the second green, Dahmen asked McIlroy if he had seen the tweet. The Northern Irishman said he hadn’t and that his management company had taken over his account.
So began Bonnalie’s quest. He printed out the tweet, taped it to McIlroy’s locker at Riviera in Los Angeles and later noticed it was gone. Success, Bonnalie thought.
A few weeks later on Bay Hill’s practice green, Bonnalie asked McIlroy about the letter. “Oh yeah, I got it,” said McIlroy, followed by a lengthy, uncomfortable silence. Bonnalie finally followed up: “Did you read it?” More crickets. McIlroy shrugged and said no.
“It was pretty funny,” Dahmen said. “Geno went from the highest of highs” to McIlroy not even reading the letter. “Still hasn’t.”
To be continued… ?
Not so chipper
The PGA Tour took notice of Dahmen’s and Bonnalie’s unique friendship – they once wore Waffle House hats in a Web.com event – and growing popularity on social media. The two agreed to a putt-putt contest, videotaped by the tour and featuring their running commentary. The loser had to eat an insanely hot Carolina Reaper tortilla chip.
“Three-putted 18 for him to win,” Bonnalie said. “Truthfully, I love him to death but he’s a wuss, and he would have died if it’d had been him.”
As TV cameras rolled, Bonnalie bit into the chip near the tee box of the famed 17th hole at the Players during the annual Wednesday caddie competition.
“There was a 30-second span where I thought I needed medical attention,” Bonnalie said.
Bonnalie is an accomplished player in his own right. He shot a 61 to break Dahmen’s course record 63 at Lewiston Country Club.
In 2011, Bonnalie set a Guinness World Record by playing 2,000 holes in seven days at Lewiston CC. He played 111 rounds (plus two additional holes) and he estimated finishing at 22-under par. He had an 87 followed by a 64.
“If that isn’t the definition of golf,” Bonnalie said.
The most important numbers: raising $15,000 for the Cystinosis Research Foundation. Bonnalie’s cousin was battling the rare disease.
Bonnalie won a 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier with Dahmen caddying. Bonnalie stuffed a side pocket with bricks and wouldn’t let Dahmen touch the bag until the first tee box.
“He picked it up and said, ‘We have to take some stuff out,’ ” Bonnalie said. “I’m like, ‘No, man, I need everything in there.’ He unzipped the pocket and found them.” Dahmen looked at Bonnalie and called him an (unprintable) name.
Lone Star line
Dahmen was struggling at the Valero Texas Open with the second round winding down. He needed two birdies in the final three holes to make the cut, but faced an eight-footer for par on No. 16.
“I can tell Joel is checking out,” Bonnalie said. “I’m like, ‘No, we’re going to make this cut.’ He looks at me and says he doesn’t even know where the putt is going.”
Bonnalie stepped in and lined up the putt. Dahmen rolled it in, much to the delight of playing partner Jonathan Byrd’s caddie. Dahmen hit it to 7 feet on No. 17, didn’t say a word and handed Bonnalie the ball again. Bingo, a birdie.
Dahmen was 15 feet away on 18. Same drill, another birdie, and he made the weekend.
“That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in golf,” Byrd’s caddie told Bonnalie.
Dahmen and fiancée Lona were planning for their wedding last December and one question remained.
“Who should marry us?” Dahmen recalled. “We both looked at each other and said, ‘Geno.’ ”
Bonnalie went online, answered a few questions and paid the fee so he could legally officiate the wedding in Arizona. He ordered a book on do-it-yourself ceremonies.
During rehearsal, the wedding planner suggested that Bonnalie work on a better transition between the vows and presentation of rings, suggesting something about a ring being circular and going on forever.
Bonnalie eagerly accepted the challenge, but added his own spin.
“I remember watching something with Jimmy Fallon about the dangers of wedding rings, and if you fall it can rip your finger up,” Bonnalie said. “I wondered if there was a term for that. Sure enough, it’s called degloving.
“During the ceremony I said, ‘The planner asked that I have a better transition here so I’d like to talk about degloving.’ They didn’t know that was coming. Worked out pretty good.”
“Geno was hilarious up there,” Dahmen said. “We laughed most of the ceremony.”
Staying at a friend’s house in the Washington, D.C., area for the Quicken Loans National, Bonnalie spotted a neglected Saab sitting under some trees. Bonnalie’s mind raced into cost-saving mode: Couple of quick fixes, drive it to the next couple of events and save big bucks compared to a rental car.
The car wouldn’t start and was full of mold, spider webs and plant roots. Bonnalie used a compressor to inflate the tires, bought a battery, added oil and the car fired right up. He scrubbed it inside and out.
Bonnalie and the owner settled on a price. “He said, how much is in your pocket?” Bonnalie said. “Twenty-two bucks. Sold.”
After Dahmen finished 23rd, , Bonnalie motored to West Virginia for the Greenbrier. Dahmen finished fifth and on Sunday afternoon the tour offered two spots on a charter flight to Illinois for the John Deere Classic. Dahmen told Bonnalie he would pay for the seats.
Certainly beats a 10-hour drive, Bonnalie thought, but he had to sell the Saab, and fast. He had invested roughly $200 in the car.
“I’m walking around to people in the gallery, ‘Hey, do you want to buy a car?’ ” he said. “I went up to a state trooper and he said, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ I said, ‘Nothing, but I have to sell it right now.’ He opened his wallet (and handed over $200), I grabbed my bag out of the car and signed the title and wrote out a bill of sale.”
“Geno was the bigger man, again”
The two rarely argue, but they had one disagreement that Dahmen still calls his worst on-course moment. They were at the Web.com Finals trying to nail down a PGA Tour card. The pressure was palpable.
Dahmen’s drive sailed wide right on No. 8 into the trees and they had a brief debate about chipping out and taking their medicine vs. a low-percentage shot at the green. Dahmen ended up trying the risky shot and made double bogey.
“Why do I even have you out here?” Dahmen said exiting the green. “A monkey could do your job.”
Bonnalie turned and pointed a finger in Dahmen’s chest: “If I didn’t think you could hit the shot I wouldn’t have let you hit it.”
Dahmen duck-hooked his drive on No. 9 and apologized profusely walking off the tee box.
“Don’t worry about it, I understand,” Bonnalie responded. “Let’s go get it done.”
Dahmen turned it around and played well on the back side, despite a closing double bogey. He narrowly hung on to get his PGA Tour card.
“Geno gave me a big hug and said, ‘Hey, you’re back on the PGA Tour,’ ” Dahmen said. “I signed my card and started bawling because of what I said to him. If he never talked to me again, it would have been fair. In that moment, that’s when you realize he’s you’re best friend.
“Geno was the bigger man, again. He had my back.”