Nick Dunlap achieved a remarkable feat by becoming the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since the legendary Phil Mickelson in 1991. At the young age of 20, Dunlap demonstrated remarkable composure, sealing his victory at The American Express with a crucial six-foot par putt on the final hole. This win placed him one stroke ahead of South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout, marking a milestone in his burgeoning golf career.
A Win Without Prize Money
In a unique twist to his victory, Dunlap, being an amateur, did not receive the $1.5 million prize money associated with the win. Instead, the substantial sum was awarded to runner-up Bezuidenhout. Despite this, Dunlap expressed immense satisfaction with his achievement, stating, “It’s so cool to be experiencing this as an amateur.”
Reflecting on his final putt, he shared his disbelief: “Whether I made or missed that, if you had told me come Wednesday night that I had a putt to win this tournament, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Praise from a Golfing Great
Phil Mickelson, a renowned figure in the world of golf with six major titles to his name, took to social media to congratulate Dunlap on his impressive performance, highlighting the significance of Dunlap’s achievement.
A Turnaround in Form
Before this triumph, Dunlap’s journey on the PGA Tour was challenging, with missed cuts in his previous three events. However, this victory not only changes his career trajectory but also grants him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and entry into prestigious tournaments like the Masters, the US PGA Championship, and The Players Championship.
Dunlap had already made a name for himself by emulating Tiger Woods in winning both the US Junior Amateur and US Amateur titles, a feat that had raised expectations for his future.
Dramatic Final Round
The final round was not without its drama. Playing at La Quinta’s Pete Dye-designed Stadium course, Dunlap encountered a setback with a double-bogey on the seventh hole. This momentarily erased his three-shot lead. Yet, the University of Alabama student showed resilience, regaining his form with three birdies over the next nine holes, finishing with a two-under 70.
Bezuidenhout, on the other hand, made a spirited charge, including a spectacular eagle on the 15th hole and a final-hole birdie, setting a challenging clubhouse target.
A Moment of Tension and Triumph
Unaware of Bezuidenhout’s final-hole birdie, Dunlap initially believed he had a more comfortable lead heading into the last hole. A slightly errant approach shot and a fortunate bounce later, he faced a six-foot putt for victory. His caddie’s reassurance – “it’s inside left, you’ve made a million of these before” – helped him secure the win.
When asked about turning professional, Dunlap reflected on the gravity of such a decision, emphasizing the need to consider its impact on many people and his desire to savor this extraordinary moment.