On Sunday at The American Express, 20-year-old sophomore Nick Dunlap of the University of Alabama created history. After 33 years, Phil Mickelson was the last amateur to win on the PGA Tour, and Dunlap became the first since. Sunday in La Quinta, California, Dunlap held a lead and rallied from behind to win with a final-round score of 70 and a final score of 29-under.
On the strength of his third-round 60—the lowest amateur score in a PGA Tour event since Patrick Cantlay accomplished the same feat in 2001—Dunlap started the day three strokes ahead of the field. However, Dunlap gave up the entire lead following a horrific double-bogey on the seventh. After that, he changed his approach and was solid for the remainder of the round. Dunlap then pounced to take a two-shot lead into the 18th hole when leader Sam Burns mishit his tee shot.
Dunlap’s tee shot on the eighteenth hole strayed right and into the gallery. Burns ended his tournament lead after 70 holes when he dropped his second consecutive tee shot. Christiaan Bezuidenhout shot ahead of them, holing a long birdie to get himself to 28-under, setting up a playoff if Dunlap failed to make the par.
Dunlap’s approach again strayed right from an uphill lay out of the rough, but it was able to roll down into the green’s perimeter. He had a mixed bag of chances to win the game outright and escape the playoffs as a result. He made a scary 5-foot, 9-inch putt to win after his elegant approach to the green. Before the putt even sank, he screamed with delight as he drained it with authority.
Dunlap exclaimed, “It’s so cool,” afterwards. 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.”
With tears in his eyes, Dunlap left the golf course to give his family and his college coach hugs.
Dunlap’s triumph is a welcome breath of fresh air for Alabama sports these days. During Dunlap’s round, former Alabama football head coach Nick Saban—who unexpectedly announced his retirement earlier this month—called into the Golf Channel broadcast and complimented the sophomore’s poise and composure.
Finishing solo in second place, Bezuidenhout took home the $1.5 million prize that Dunlap was unable to win as an amateur. At 27-under, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, and Kevin Yu, all alumni of Alabama, tied for third place.
Since Tiger Woods in 1996, Dunlap is the only defending U.S. Amateur champion to win on the Tour. Dunlap’s victory gives him admission into the Masters, PGA Championship, Players Championship, and most importantly, a two-year exemption onto the PGA Tour, should he decide to turn pro. He’s going to have to make a big decision soon.