Nick Dunlap, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Alabama, made history Sunday at The American Express. Dunlap became the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson 33 years ago. With a final-round 70 and a final score of 29-under, Dunlap managed to both hold a lead and come from behind Sunday to claim victory in La Quinta, California.
Dunlap entered the day three strokes ahead of the field on the back of a third-round 60, the lowest score by an amateur in a PGA Tour event since Patrick Cantlay managed the same score in 2001. But Dunlap surrendered all of his lead after a disastrous double-bogey on the seventh. He then switched mindsets and remained steady throughout the rest of the round, and when leader Sam Burns put his tee shot into the water at the 17th, Dunlap pounced to claim a two-shot lead heading to the 18th.
On the 18th, Dunlap's tee shot drifted right and into the gallery. Burns dunked his second straight tee shot to take himself out of a tournament he'd led after 70 holes. Ahead of them, Christiaan Bezuidenhout holed a long birdie to put himself at 28-under, opening the door to a playoff if Dunlap couldn't convert the par.
From an uphill lie out of the rough, Dunlap's approach again drifted right, but it managed to roll down onto the fringe of the green. That gave him an up-and-down opportunity to win outright and avoid the playoff. His graceful approach onto the green left him a terrifying, 5-foot, 9-inch putt for the win. He drained it with authority, screaming in exultation before the putt even dropped.
"It's so cool," Dunlap said afterward. "I told Sam numerous times, like, it is so cool to be out here and experience this as an amateur. Whether I had made that or missed that, if you would have told me that, you know, come Wednesday night I would have a putt to win this golf tournament, I wouldn't believe you."
Dunlap walked off the green to embrace his family and his college coach, tears in his eyes.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 22, 2024
Dunlap's victory is a bit of much-needed good news for Alabama athletics these days. Former Alabama football head coach Nick Saban, who stunningly retired earlier this month, called into the Golf Channel broadcast during Dunlap's round, praising the sophomore's steadiness and putting touch.
Mickelson himself chimed in with praise for Dunlap:
Such an impressive performance by Nick Dunlap. Congratulations on an incredible win. This is just the beginning 👍👍
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) January 22, 2024
Mickelson wasn't the only pro to offer Dunlap praise. Jon Rahm, who has made a few pressure-packed putts of his own, offered his thoughts:
What an amazing accomplishment by @NickDunlap62 , stellar play and way to pull through under pressure to join a very selective group of players to win PGA tour events as an amateur! Great future ahead of this great talent! Congratulations.
— Jon Rahm Rodriguez (@JonRahmOfficial) January 22, 2024
Bezuidenhout finished in solo second, pocketing the $1.5 million prize that Dunlap couldn't as an amateur. Kevin Yu, Xander Schauffele and Alabama alum Justin Thomas tied for third at 27-under.
Dunlap is the first reigning winner of the U.S. Amateur to win on Tour since Tiger Woods in 1996. The victory entitles Dunlap, if he chooses to turn pro, to entries in the Masters, the PGA Championship, the Players Championship and — most notably — a two-year exemption onto the PGA Tour. He'll have a significant choice to make very soon.