There’s been little to celebrate for Joel Dahmen through the early part of 2021, but that could change in a big way in Punta Cana.
Dahmen, who shot a 4-under-par 68 in the third round at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, heads into Sunday’s finale tied for the lead with local favorite Rafael Campos. Campos, who is from Puerto Rico but calls the Dominican his second home, drained a birdie on the difficult par-4 18th from off the green to tie Dahmen at 10-under, much to the joy of the small crowd on site this week.
Michael Gligic and Danny Willett are a shot back at 9-under and tied for third. Gligic is, like Campos and Dahmen, searching for his first TOUR win.
Dahmen, meanwhile, has made only one cut in the 2021 portion of this season, a T60 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. After Thursday’s 67 – only his second round in the 60’s in 2021 – he admitted his clubs were bent incorrectly earlier this year. While his swing was sound, the ball wasn’t flying the way he was hoping it would. His coach in Arizona, Rob Rashell, got him back to normal.
“I played four weeks basically, with maybe clubs that weren’t fit properly. And that sucks, obviously,” said Dahmen. “Things were squirrelly at the beginning of this year and I felt like I was playing better than I was scoring and we kind of worked through some of those things. Then you work on your swing, you don’t chip and putt as much, so I knew it was all right there, I knew I would wake up one day and it was going to be there.
“I was putting in the time, I was putting in the effort, just doing the right things. But golf’s really hard that way.”
He said despite the results being “ugly” so far in 2021, he said he’s been hitting it well, and it’s showed through 54 holes in Punta Cana.
“I’ve been getting my butt kicked out here since the start of the year, so it feels good to play well,” said Dahmen.
Dahmen’s third-round 68 included four birdies on the windswept back nine at Corales. He admitted his putter has been “hot and cold” this week but gave himself a kick after making the turn Saturday. He saw he was going down the leaderboard, but felt like, the way he was hitting it, he should be moving up.
He made birdie on No’s 9 and 10, added a couple more on both the par fives, and saved par on the tricky par-3 17th and par-4 18th, after a poor tee shot, to finish it off.
Dahmen felt he should have been in the World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play field based on his body of work in 2020 (he was ranked as high as 64th in the world at the end of last year) and despite thinking he was going to take this week off, not getting into the Match Play was the motivation he needed to tee it up at Corales.
Dahmen’s been a mainstay on the PGA TOUR since he finished 80th on the FedExCup standings in 2018. He’s gotten better every year since, finishing 55th in 2019 and 38th last season. This coming a half-decade on Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada until his breakout season in 2014 when he won twice and was Player of the Year.
The 33-year-old’s journey in professional golf – including beating testicular cancer when he was 23 – has been well documented, and now he’ll be in the final group on Sunday on the PGA TOUR for the first time.
He credits his wife, Lona, for supporting all of his on-course success over the nine years they’ve been together. The couple calls Scottsdale home and have been married for two years now – with Lona documenting much of their travels on her well-followed Instagram account, @TravelEatsAndTreats. She worked two jobs to pay rent when Dahmen was trying to get to the TOUR and said she’s always been a positive influence on his life.
“I just had a rough seven, eight weeks, it’s not that bad, but the way I play – super consistent, make a lot of cuts – you know, it seemed like it was pretty bad. It’s never as bad as you think it is, it’s never as good as you think it is, and Lona’s been great for me,” said Dahmen of his 2021. “She still gives me a hug and a kiss and tells me to go kick butt, so it’s been good.”
And with Dahmen tied for the lead and 18 holes away from his first PGA TOUR victory, there might be an even better reason for a hug and a kiss Sunday night.