20-year-old University of Alabama golfer Nick Dunlap stunned the golf world this weekend by claiming victory at the 2024 American Express tournament, becoming the first amateur winner on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in 1991.
Leaderboard Shock as Dunlap Claims Maiden Tour Title
Heading into the final round at PGA West tied for the lead, few expected Dunlap to emerge victorious against a world-class field. However, a closing three-under 69 proved enough for the amateur as he finished at 17-under par – beating runners-up Tony Finau and Jon Rahm by two shots.
Dunlap’s win sparked jubilant scenes not seen on the PGA Tour for over 30 years, as the Alabama native broke down in tears with his family after holing the winning putt on the 18th green. His caddie’s humorous reaction, telling him “You’ve just made no money!” in reference to amateurs not receiving prize money, provoked widespread laughter.
The victory caps a historic week for Dunlap in the Californian desert. Last August he won the US Amateur title as the #16 seed, earning starts in the Masters, US Open and Open Championship this year as a result. Now, in only his fourth PGA Tour start, he has etched his name into golfing folklore.
|Nick Dunlap (AM)
Flooded With Praise From Golfing Elite
In the aftermath of his breakthrough win, the rising star has received widespread plaudits from icons of the game.
Tiger Woods hailed Dunlap’s win as “a monumental achievement”, while Rory McIlroy praised his “fearless and relaxed” mindset. Phil Mickelson sees comparisons between his own 1991 amateur heroics and Dunlap’s, saying “he has the game and maturity to become a force for many years.”
The Alabama coach echoed these sentiments, stating “Nick has always had the talent and this victory will only fuel his motivation and self-belief to achieve more.”
Implications: Majors and Ryder Cup in Sight?
The American Express triumph carries several key implications for Dunlap as he weighs up whether to turn professional or return to Alabama to complete his final year.
By winning a PGA Tour event with a strong field, Dunlap now holds a two-year exemption on tour. He has also qualified for premier tournaments like THE PLAYERS, invitational events and the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions.
World Ranking Rise
His victory is projected to propel Dunlap inside the world’s top 65 – giving him a chance of qualifying for the Ryder Cup if he turns pro soon.
Claiming a PGA Tour title provides validation that his game can stand up to golf’s toughest tests. With his US Amateur title already granting Masters invites for 2024, Dunlap now has further justification that he could contend at Augusta and in future majors.
As an amateur Dunlap forfeits the $1.5 million winner’s prize. But after this breakthrough on an elevated platform, lucrative sponsorship deals likely await soon from equipment, apparel and global brands if he joins the paid ranks.
What’s Next? Farmers Insurance Open Debut Before Masters Run
Initially scheduled to make his Farmers Insurance Open debut on January 25th at Torrey Pines, Dunlap has withdrawn to take stock of his sensational win and ponder turning professional. Expect an announcement within days or weeks as his team look to strike while the iron is hot.
All roads then lead to Augusta National for golf’s first major starting April 4th. The Masters represents a golden opportunity on a course suiting Dunlap’s skillset to announce himself on the biggest stage alongside the world’s best. The Georgia crowd love a heartwarming underdog story – and this year, a warm southern welcome likely awaits golf’s newest household name in Nick Dunlap at the course he dreamed of playing thanks to his magical American Express victory.
Alabama: College Career Excellence Before Shock PGA Tour Win
For the uninitiated, Dunlap’s rapid rise in 2024 comes after emerging as one of college golf’s elite players for Alabama during an esteemed amateur career to date.
Storied Alabama Career
As a Freshman in 2021-2022, Dunlap made an immediate impression by earning First Team All-America honours as Alabama captured the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship.
The following season he cementing his status as one of college golf’s premier players, winning consecutive tournaments in March 2023 to top the individual rankings. He would then lead Alabama to both SEC team and individual titles, named SEC Player of the Year.
Approaching his Junior year in 2023-2024, Dunlap headed into the season tipped by many as favourite for the prestigious Nicklaus Award recognizing college golf’s best player.
His early American Express heroics leave his Alabama return in doubt, but in just two full seasons in Tuscaloosa he leaves an immense legacy. Across 25 tournaments, he tallied over 20 top ten finishes including 4 wins.
2022 US Amateur Champion
The launchpad for Dunlap’s rapid rise came at the 2022 US Amateur. He headed to Ridgewood Country Club ranked #16 in the world among amateurs, but would leave with the trophy to earn his Masters invite.
His path grew in difficulty throughout. A round of 64 powered him into the matchplay where he prevailed in six matches without ever trailing to qualify for the 36-hole final. There he was pushed all the way by Sam Bennett, rallying from two holes down early to force extra holes after 72 dramatic holes could not split the duo. But Dunlap regrouped to claim victory with a par at the 1st playoff hole, raising the Havemeyer trophy among emotional scenes with his family.
Table: Notable Amateurs to Win on PGA Tour
|San Diego Open
|Northern Telecom Open
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