First Open Championship – Joel Dahmen and caddie Geno Bonnalie

by Garrett Johnston (Twitter: @JohnstonGarrett)

Geno Bonnalie is the caddie for Joel Dahmen, the Clarkston, Wash. native, former University of Washington player and 2007 Washington State Amateur champion. Dahmen has qualified for his first Open Championship, being held in 2019 at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Bonnalie and Dahmen have formed quite the team, with Dahmen’s impressive play of late garnering almost as much attention as the comedic social media exploits of the two of them. Here is a conversation with Bonnalie, as the two young men find themselves on the other side of the pond for the first time.

Geno Bonnalie and Joel Dahmen
Joel Dahmen and his caddie Geno Bonnalie line up a putt during a practice round at Royal Portrush in preparation for this week’s Open Championship. (Photo by Leinani Shak Photography)

GJ: So, you’re at your first ever Open Championship. What are your initial thoughts?

GB: I’m very lucky and happy to be here. This is as big as the Masters to me. I’ve always thought this is just the coolest tournament and style of golf. I love the fans, the tough conditions, I like that your golf ball can end up in weird places and everything about it.

GJ: Were you a guy that got up in the wee hours before dark in Lewiston, Idaho to watch it on TV?

GB: I do like my sleep but I would definitely get up earlier than normal, and up around 5:30am. I’m not a maniac for 3:00am. This was probably my favorite one to watch.
There’s just something about the Open that’s just special.

GJ: So when did you get to Portrush? Did you end up taking the charter from the John Deere (last week’s PGA Tour event) even though you missed the cut last Friday?

GB: Yes, we took the charter. We hung out for two days and played golf on Saturday at Davenport CC in Iowa. I went and donated a couple dollars to Joel (laughs). We played the front nine, but for the back nine we each picked three clubs to use. He gave me a half stroke, but only that much because he says he stinks at putting with a wedge. I was 2-over and he was 1-over. I lost a hundred bucks to him, which stings a little bit.

We got in from the charter Monday afternoon, and Joel went straight to his place and I walked the front nine. Spent a couple hours out there. Joel came out to the golf course in the afternoon. We practiced for a while and played a few holes – the first seven holes then got a couple holes on the back.

It’s so funny because you can hit such a good shot down the middle of the fairway and then have it find a bunker and be completely screwed. You have to understand where to hit everything and how the ground is reacting. The ball is running out really far.
Joel is not a particularly long hitter, but with conditions like this he’s getting it out there 340 or 350 on some holes.

GJ: What was the “aha” moment where you realized, “Wow, I’m at The Open!”

GB: I think on hole five, the back of the green looks over a beautiful beach and you can see up and down the entire coastline. I stood there for a minute, sent my wife a text and said, “This place is unbelievable!”

GJ: You and Joel always look like you’re having fun. Tell me about the no-look putt he made at Travelers, the one you Tweeted about.

Geno Bonnalie- Tweet
Geno Bonnalie’s Tweet about Joel Dahmen’s no-look putt at Travelers

GB: It was an 8-footer. It was at No. 16 at Travelers. It was incredible. I put my hands in the air because I couldn’t believe that he actually did it. The fact that he tried it for starters, and then he poured it right in the middle. It was pretty awesome, I was impressed.

GJ: You’ve never been to Europe, much less Northern Ireland. What are your initial thoughts of links golf?

GB: How many different shots you can play, and the number of places you can hit it to be in position to score. I understand the basics of it, my golf IQ is pretty good. Learning this course in particular is going to be key. I’ve got to put in a lot of hours this week and try to figure out what our lines are off the tee, where we can hit it to each pin, spots to avoid, putting in the time to see as many shots out here as possible before we tee it up on Thursday.

It’s not like it’s work this week. Sometimes you don’t want to be at the golf course as much as you are, but this week is a privilege to be out there so I’m really excited.

GJ: What do you think of the accents of the locals?

GB: I have a difficult time understanding them (laughs). Some of the words they use are awesome. Monday at 18, I stood there and looked in the yardage book and gave Joel a target line. There’s a Rolex clock way out in the distance. I said let’s just hit it there.
One of the marshals said, “Yes, give it a wee flick out towards that clock.”
And I said, “Yeah Joel, give it a flick.” And he said it sounds simple when you put it like that.

The waitress at dinner on Monday told me their specials and I couldn’t tell you one thing she said to me. Everybody’s been super nice and very helpful. Even the galleries were cordial and clapped for good shots.

Joel Dahmen
Joel Dahmen lines up a putt on the second hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Photo by AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

GJ: Will you be grabbing a local brew?

GB: I’m going to have myself a pint or two of Guinness this week and try some new stuff. I like trying new stuff. I don’t know what I’ll get myself into this week, but even if there is a Sonic here near Portrush, I can assure you I will not be going there. Food is part of the experience, and I think it’s cool.

There’s a golf course called the Old Course right across the street from my rental house. They’ve got $10 all you can play golf, all day long. It’s like a par 64. So I imagine I might grab a beer or two in the afternoon of our morning tee time on Friday.
I plan to take a wedge and cruise around there and I think that would be pretty fun.

GJ: You’re just a kid in a candy store this week, aren’t you?

GB: For sure. I’m pretty lucky.

GJ: And lastly, the time-change. This is eight hours ahead of Lewiston, Idaho. How are you managing?

GB: I managed to stay awake all day my first day on Monday without taking a nap, so that’s a good start.


Garrett Johnston has covered golf for a decade, including 30 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnstonGarrett.