Joel Dahmen and caddie Geno Bonnalie are at Bethpage this week competing in their first ever major championship.
So how do you celebrate such an occasion?
Invite a hodgepodge of friends and family if you’re Bonnalie.
He’ll have his father Jim, father-in-law, and a good friend from college in his cheering section.
This is Bonnalie’s first-ever visit to Long Island and the first time he will have ever set foot at a major because he’s never attended one as a fan. Living in Lewiston, Idaho, you just don’t get that many drive-able majors nearby.
So what is Bonnalie most looking forward to about this new experience?
“I’m looking forward to the same feeling we had through the weekend at Wells Fargo (Championship),” Bonnalie said of their career-best, second-place finish from two weeks ago. “We’ve been in position just a couple times, but man, there’s nothing like competing late on a Sunday.
“Joel’s done really well in these stronger field events. He definitely has the game, so I’m most excited to see where we end up this week because I think it’s going to be really good.”
PGA week has already caused some late nights for Bonnalie thanks to his father’s struggles with smartphone apps.
“I wish my dad knew how to use Uber so I didn’t have to pick him up at midnight (Tuesday night),” Bonnalie joked over the phone Tuesday evening. “He’s pretty excited, I’m so happy for him. He’s got to be Joel’s biggest fan. He gets really into it and lives and dies by every single shot Joel hits.”
— Geno Bonnalie (@GenoBonnalie) September 26, 2018
And what exactly does live and die with each shot mean?
“He follows shot-tracker on us every single shot we’ve hit for the last five years, I feel like,” he said.
Jim Bonnalie is a 16-handicap, who his son calls a “super golf dork.”
“It’s so funny because after a tournament, I’ll call him and he’ll say, ‘oh man, did you see Joel’s tee shot on the (ninth) hole?’ and I’m like ‘Dad, I was standing right next to him, I’ve seen every shot he’s ever hit. Yes I was there, I saw it!’” Bonnalie said. “He always likes to go through the round and he tells me what he was thinking at each stage.”
For Geno, this has already been a different kind of week than what he’s used to on Tour.
“I’m pretty pumped up about this being our first major,” he said. “I got out of the shower, starting my day Monday and thought ‘wow, I’m a little nervous, I’ve never felt this way before.'”
During a Monday practice round, Dahmen and Bonnalie typically don’t see anyone “ever” and of course there were a lot of people this time at Bethpage Black. And Tuesday, there were even more.
“There were fans out there on a Tuesday that gave us a hard time for missing a fairway in a practice round,” Bonnalie said. “These New Yorkers are pretty fun fans. I’m the biggest golf dork in the world, so the fact that we’re out here doing this, at a major is just pretty cool.”
Before this week, Bonnalie said he feels like he and Dahmen have played in every non-major there is, and interestingly enough it’s been in the biggest of those events with the deepest fields — like The Players in March and two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo — where Dahmen has played some of his best golf.
He finished 12th at The Players and that career-best, solo second at Wells Fargo paired in the final group with eventual winner, Max Homa.
While walking on the Tour’s prized closing stage at The Players, Bonnalie was struck by what the moment meant for him and his player in their fifth season together.
“I’ll always remember on Sunday, we were walking up 16 at The Players and there were tens of thousands of people there and you look over and there’s 17 green,” he said “And I just looked at Joel and said ‘how cool is this? This sight is so awesome. We’re just a couple golf nerds from Idaho’.”
A couple who nearly won in their last start just 10 days ago.
Could Bonnalie and Dahmen have asked for a better source of momentum going into their first major?
“I couldn’t hope for a better spot to be in truthfully,” Bonnalie said. “Joel’s confidence is really high right now, he’s excited for this week.”
Bonnalie also attributes Dahmen’s confidence to more self-belief in his normally mediocre putting, and that component “makes the game easier,” according to Bonnalie.
Bonnalie arrived at Bethpage Black on Sunday and walked all 18 on Monday while Dahmen practiced with swing coach Rob Rashell, played the back nine Tuesday and the front nine Wednesday.
“These greens are lightning fast, really quick. It’s amazing the rollout we see on putts that are even uphill, it’s pretty impressive,” Bonnalie said.
Dahmen and Bonnalie encountered the teeth of Bethpage Black on a couple approach shots on 10 and 12 on Tuesday.
“We hit hybrid into 10 and 3-wood into 12, monster holes, this is just a beast,” Bonnalie said. “And Joel hit good tee shots on both of them. He’s not overly long but he’s no slouch either.”
They still had 250 yards to the hole, after that “good” tee ball.
“Is this golf course real?” Dahmen asked Bonnalie. “Why don’t they do this one as a par 5?”
Adam Long and Corey Conners joined their group on Tuesday. Bonnalie says he thinks both Long and Conners hit 3-wood or close to it into 12 as well.
For all of Bethpage’s storied difficulty, there are still players who’ve had surprise success there.
The last player to win a major at Bethpage is Lucas Glover, who fortuitously was grouped with Dahmen the first two rounds at Wells Fargo earlier this month.
It was Bonnalie‘s first time meeting the 2009 U.S. Open champ.
“Lucas talked about how tough the golf course is and the importance of good driving at Bethpage,” he said. “Lucas drives the eyes out of the golf ball so I can totally see how he won here.”
Certainly, Bonnalie expects a stern challenge this week from the course, so what will the looper do in his off time to take his mind off work?
“I know I’m late to the game on this, but I’ve really been getting into the Parks & Rec TV show,” Bonnalie said. “I’ve been binge-watching that after staying with a guy who was hooked on it a couple weeks back. And I was dying laughing watching it, I thought ‘this show’s amazing’ so I’ve been rifling through these episodes, so I’ll probably do that.”
Bonnalie has already made some social media noise with his fun character sketches of Dahmen on Twitter.
This week, he took his free smartphone app and imposed Dahmen’s mustache onto the Bethpage Black logo figure.
Hopefully the sun will be out this week so we can rock the bucket in our 1st major. 💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/kUMXnG5pMW
— Geno Bonnalie (@GenoBonnalie) May 15, 2019
“I like using Joel’s face in all of these (including Valspar week when he super-imposed Dahmen’s face on an Indiana Jones body and said he’s ready to tame the Snake Pit). I gotta do something relevant to the event,” he said. “Had a free app on my phone and just had to put them together.”
Whatever happens, this will no doubt be a fun week for the boys from the Lewiston, Idaho-Washington Metropolitan Area.