Joel Dahmen beat obstacles bigger than golf to earn PGA Tour card

— -- When they were students golfing and living together at the University of Washington, Joel Dahmen and Nick Taylor would sit in their house and play Nintendo's Mario Kart. Pretty often.

" Too often would be the best remark," Taylor said. "When we first got it, we started playing NFL Blitz, then we went to Mario Kart. Essentially, we got addicted and there were three or four of us in the house playing all the time. We played too much but got pretty good. We kept playing and playing. It was in the winter, so there was more Mario Kart than golf."

Now, they will be playing together again, but it won't be Mario Kart (or at least not on the course). It will be on the PGA Tour. Taylor has been on the tour since 2014, while Dahmen just earned his card at the end of August. He did so after years of considerable struggle.

Dahmen, 28, got started in golf about the time he could walk, joining his father, Ed, who coached him throughout his junior career and helped him become very good. Unfortunately, Joel's mother, Jolyn, died from pancreatic cancer when he was in high school. After receiving his scholarship to play at Washington, Dahmen wound up dropping out due to poor academics. While he partied a bit, he said he simply didn't go to classes enough during a difficult period.

"It was a tough time in my life," Dahmen said. "My mom passed away. I was just a young kid without a lot of direction or drive to do anything at the time. Being a young kid from a small town [Clarkston, Washington] and all of a sudden at a large university with the world at my hands, I didn't handle it that well."

Things got worse as there was more to handle. His brother was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2009 and successfully treated. Then in 2011, Dahmen got the same diagnosis. He had surgery to remove a testicle and then underwent chemotherapy treatment that would go on roughly eight hours a day, every day, for several weeks in which Dahmen would be weak and prone to throwing up.

"At the beginning, it's really tough," Dahmen said. "You're not really sure where to go or what to do or how healthy you're going to be or what your long-term goal can be. It's sitting down for a few weeks and pouting and saying, 'Why me?' and 'Why is this happening to us?' Then you have to make short-term goals and decide if you're going to fight it or not and how hard you will fight to get back on your feet."

Dahmen fought hard enough to not only get back on his feet but resume playing golf within a month of his treatment. And he also played well enough to get on the Canadian tour in 2013.

"It renewed my respect and outlook on the game and changed my goals," he said of his return. "My practice habits and some of the other things weren't on track with the PGA professionals. I just kind of dedicated myself back to the game and practicing more. And got instruction. I realized that's what I wanted to do, and I really started working toward that goal."

Reaching that goal wasn't easy, especially with financial obstacles that are far more numerous and challenging than sand traps on a golf course.

While top golfers on the PGA Tour earn a lot of money -- more than 100 won at least $1 million in the recently completed season -- players on the lower levels do not. They must cover their own travel and lodging expenses, which easily can surpass earnings on the Canadian or tours.

"It's hard to explain to people sometimes," Taylor said. "The majority of athletes in every other sport, they might be paid less than what golfers make but all their expenses are taken care of, so they don't have to worry about that. If a golfer makes 50 grand in a year, he's at least spending that amount for traveling and caddies."

Dahmen said his father was always supportive, "Making sacrifices to give me all the opportunities he could to make my dream a reality.'' He also had another loyal supporter backing him in Bob Yosaitis. The former owner of Bradley Pacific Aviation, Yosaitis played a crucial role with financial and other support.

The two met and became friends while Yosaitis was caddying for his son at the 2010 Washington state amateur tournament. In the years since, Yosaitis has provided considerable financial help, including paying for Dahmen's cancer treatment. He has even caddied for him.

"I was looking at Joel like another one of my kids," Yosaitis said. "He called me one day on the phone and was crying. I thought he had some golf problems. I asked, 'What's wrong?' and he said, 'I have cancer.' I told him, 'Don't worry. I'll pay for the treatment. You're getting the surgery.'"

Dahmen said Yosaitis has been like a second father to him.

"He's just a super generous guy who can help and was willing to help," Dahmen said. "And we've had a great incredible relationship ever since."

Still, it took several years on the Canadian and the tours before Dahmen finally earned his PGA card in late August. Even that barely happened. Just prior to qualifying, he missed the cut at three consecutive tournaments and nearly missed out. He cried when he missed the cut in the last tournament, and then cried again when he earned the card after finishing among the top 25 on the tour.

Dahmen said if he hadn't qualified he would have felt like he let down all the people who helped him, including his father and Yosaitis.

"I'm just way more appreciative of the experiences and things I get to do," he said. "I enjoy everything I'm doing a lot more. I'm trying to really enjoy the moment that I'm in and the people I'm with and not take anything for granted. I used to take everything for granted because I pretty much had everything I needed. It just humbled me quite a bit and brought me back to earth."

The challenges and difficulties never end, of course. Eight days after earning his card, Dahmen slipped on a cart route and injured his hand with a break at the base of his thumb. He's targeting the Sanderson Farms Championship at the end October for his debut as a PGA Tour member. Perhaps he and his old housemate Taylor will then reunite, playing Mario Kart in between tournaments and setting an example for aspiring young golfers for how to succeed in the sport.

"There's more than one lesson to learn," Taylor, 28, said. "Not giving up is the most evident one. I think a lot of people in that scenario could have hung up the clubs and done something else, because being pro wasn't the likely reality, but people who know Joel know how good he can be."