Walking With Tigers

Published on Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 in Features


Geno set a Guinness World Record by playing 2,000 holes in one week, while making nearly 500 birdies.

Many people go through life content with the status quo, never wanting to rock the boat. Geno Bonnalie is not one of them.

In the days leading up to Christmas in 2010, Geno decided he wanted to make golf history, so he contacted the people at the Guinness Book of World Records to get their guidelines on how to set a recognized record for the most holes played in a week. He also decided to challenge the birdie record for the same time frame. The previous records were 1,880 and 310, respectively.

Geno saw this as a golden opportunity to do something special for his wife, Holly’s, seven-year-old cousin, Tina Flerchinger. She had been suffering her entire young life from a rare disease called Cystinosis, and Bonnalie decided to combine his quest with a fund-raising effort for research. He got pledges from individuals and was able to donate $15,000 to the cause. He worked with the staff of the Lewiston Golf and Country Club to set up a course that would meet the Guinness distance requirements and created “Geno tees” for all 18 holes. Dozens of club members served as combination scorers and witnesses, others ran ahead to place balls on the tee for him, and still others drove in front of him to alert on-course players that, “Geno’s coming through!”

On June 27, 2011, he teed off at 4:22 a.m. and the race was on. He played 18 rounds (324 holes) on the first day and could barely crawl out of bed the next morning. He developed sore muscles, blisters and had to fight 100-degree heat and fatigue, but he kept going and going, day after day.

“The very worst thing was the first shot of each morning,” Bonnalie said. “My grip felt like I was grabbing razor blades and I would literally whimper.”

The feat drew tremendous interest locally and people put signs in their windows. The Lewiston Morning Tribune and KLEW-TV kept locals up-to-date and people yelled encouragement from the street, golf carts, patios, and clubhouse as he rolled around the course from dawn to dusk at an amazing clip in his distinctive lime-green golf cart.

Finally, at 7:30 p.m. on July 3, Geno called it quits. He had played an even 2,000 holes and had also shattered the birdie record, carding 493 of them.

“There was another 90 minutes of sunlight and I could have pressed on, but I thought 2,000 was a pretty cool number and I was so, so tired,” he remembered.

Geno’s mother, JoAnne, was extremely proud of her son and his feat, but she was glad to see him quit when he did.

“He had sores and blisters everywhere, including very bad ones under his armpits. Plus, he had to get a shot in his knee in the middle of the week,” she recalled. “The physical toll was way too much for most people.”

Many people have dreams, but never take the initiative to make them come true. Geno is not one of those people, either.

On Sept. 16, 2014, Geno sent the following e-mail to Joel:

“Hey buddy…First off, I want to tell you how proud of you I am. I’ve believed since you were a little tike at Clarkston that you were going to make the Big Time. …I truly believe you will be one of the best players in the World. That being said, I would like to officially apply for the position of ‘Joel Dahmen’s Caddy’ for the Web.com & PGA TOUR. I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I don’t want to put any pressure on you to hire me, I just want to explain why I would be a good fit for the job and let you decide.

…First off, I want to tell you that Holly and I are comfortable financially and we would not rely on you winning in order to live. I don’t want you to have any additional weight on your shoulders of you thinking you have to perform so I can eat. This is a job and I understand there may be weeks without any revenue.

Last time we spoke, you said something along the lines of, ’It’s not as fun as you think it is …’ I don’t think you realize how much I love golf, everything about it. It literally consumes my thoughts. I promise you that no one would work harder than I would. I will be at the course earlier than everyone, I will be a charting/documenting machine. I feel like you and I have the type of relationship where this would be a good fit. You are one of my best friends, and I feel like I can express my opinions and concerns to you without having it affect us personally (not that we would have any issues…just saying). I also understand that you need alone time and time to spend with your friends on Tour. I do not plan on spending every waking second with you, but we will definitely have our time to celebrate after successful tournaments.

…I think I could make it work. …I already have a plan to get rid of my truck, and buy a Honda Civic and modify it to be my house. I have also looked at the schedule and know that there are some weeks where it is over 1,000 miles to the next location. That’s okay. That’s only 16 hours & $125 in gas…easy. I know there would be a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my future, but I have a way of surviving on nothing.

…I do have some requirements from you though if you do consider me for this:
I expect you to give it 100% every week
Never give up
Be completely honest with me at all times

Again, I don’t want you to feel like you have to hire me. I want you to hire me because you think I will be the best person for the job. If you think someone else will do better and be a better fit…great. As long as you are successful, happy, and come home to play golf with me every once in a while, I will be a happy camper.

Keep me posted because if you do decide to go another route I need to find a new job.

I love you, and I am so proud of you! WOOOOO!”

Dahmen laughed.

“Geno sent me this formal e-mail applying for the job as my caddie and I kind of laughed,” he said. “I told him no for four months because I didn’t want him sacrificing a paycheck and missing time with his wife and [son].”

Holly Bonnalie, though, told him, “Look, he believes in you and he wants to be out there with you. He doesn’t want to jump on the train when you get on the PGA Tour, he wants to help you get there.

“Also, I love this man to death and I don’t want him looking back when he is 45 years old and saying, if only…”

The pep talk sealed the deal and, six months later, the Dahmen-Bonnalie duo made their Web.com Tour debut.

Read more about Joel and Geno’s remarkable first year on the PGA TOUR in Walking With Tigers, which can be ordered from Amazon or directly from the publisher, Black Rose Writing. The cost is $16.95, plus tax and shipping. Or, for a signed, personalized copy, you can order directly from the author at bummer2bme@yahoo.com.

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