20-Year-Old University of Alabama Student Becomes Youngest Amateur Champion on PGA Tour Since 1991
In a thrilling finish that shocked the golf world, 20-year-old amateur golfer Nick Dunlap emerged victorious at the 2024 American Express tournament on Sunday. Although unable to claim the winner’s purse due to his amateur status, Dunlap’s breakthrough win marks the first time an amateur has won on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in 1991.
Dunlap, a junior at the University of Alabama, held off a star-studded field that included world #2 Jon Rahm to card a final round 68 and finish -18 for the tournament. His composed performance down the stretch belied his inexperience, as he overcame a nervy bogey on 16 with clutch pars on 17 and 18 to secure the trophy.
“It’s so surreal,” said an emotional Dunlap after his win. “Playing against guys I’ve looked up to, guys I want to compete against when I turn pro. To do this as an amateur is just unbelievable.”
Amateur Denied $1.44 Million Prize Money
As an amateur, Dunlap is unable to claim the winner’s share of the $8 million purse, which would have been $1.44 million. However, the 20-year-old said the achievement was special regardless of the prize money.
“Money is not important to me at all,” insisted Dunlap. “It’s obviously an honor if I could take it, but being able to have a chance to win, to beat some of the best players in the world, that’s what I’m happy about.”
Under PGA Tour rules, if an amateur wins a Tour event, the first-place prize money goes to the runner-up. In this case, that was world #2 Jon Rahm, who carded an impressive final round 65 but came up just short at -17.
| Final Leaderboard | Score |
| 1. Nick Dunlap (Amateur) | -18 |
| 2. Jon Rahm | -17 |
| T3. Tony Finau | -15 |
| T3. Xander Schauffele | -15 |
“Fair play to Nick, he played great golf,” said Rahm. “He deserves the win 100%, amateur or not. The rule is unfortunate for him but I won’t say no to a big check!” Rahm’s haul of $1.44 million brings his career PGA Tour earnings to over $40 million.
Youngest Amateur Winner Since Mickelson in 1991
Dunlap’s win is historic, as he becomes the youngest amateur champion on Tour since Phil Mickelson 31 years ago. As a 20-year-old college sophomore in 1991, Mickelson stunned the golf world by winning the Northern Telecom Open.
Amateurs winning is rare enough, with just six now having accomplished the feat in the Tour’s 90-year history. For Dunlap to do it at such a young age puts him in elite company alongside golf legends like Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus.
“What Nick has achieved will go down in history,” said six-time major winner Mickelson. “To handle the pressure at his age shows he has the game and the mentality to dominate at the professional level soon.”
Dunlap revealed Mickelson has been a long-time inspiration for him. “Phil sent me a really nice text last night congratulating me,” said Dunlap. “He’s always been a huge idol of mine so that was pretty cool.”
Likely Turning Professional Soon
Although Dunlap remains focused on collegiate and amateur golf for now, most expect he will soon follow Mickelson’s lead in transitioning to professional status.
As an amateur, Dunlap is unable to accept any prize money or sign sponsorship deals. But that is likely to change in the near future, according to Alabama head coach Jay Seawell.
“Nick has a huge decision in the coming months but I expect he’ll make the jump after Augusta,” said Seawell. “Opportunities for him right now could be massive.”
The Augusta reference is to the Masters Tournament in April, where Dunlap has likely secured a special exemption as the American Express champion. Turning professional would make him ineligible for that, but the potential financial windfall appears too good to pass up.
Initial projections estimate $50-100 million in long-term sponsorship deals for the young star, with equipment giant Adidas rumored to be preparing a record rookie offer. On top of that, Dunlap now has Tour membership to chase the huge purses available every week.
“We’ll sit down as a family and discuss it,” said Dunlap. “But the financial security is appealing. And I’m confident my game can compete out here.”
What Dunlap’s Win Means for Golf
Beyond just the historic individual achievement, Dunlap’s shocking win is significant for the world of professional golf in several regards:
Underdog Stories Resonate
Seeing an unknown 20-year-old defeat the game’s best is a compelling underdog narrative that resonates with sports fans. It also showcases golf’s uniqueness in providing opportunities for amateurs to compete directly with seasoned pros.
Profile Boost for Collegiate Golf
As a current college standout, Dunlap brings added exposure and interest to the college game. This could potentially transform Alabama into an elite golf powerhouse on par with schools known for producing stars like Oklahoma State and Texas.
Mainstream Breakthrough Potential
With his amateur status, youth and underdog triumph, Dunlap possesses the inspiring personal story that could break golf into the mainstream consciousness. Youth participation in golf has declined in recent decades—the “Dunlap effect” could reverse that trend.
PGA Tour Unpredictability
Dunlap’s win reinforces the unpredictable, underdog-friendly nature of golf against star-studded fields. Seeing top players unexpectedly defeated keeps the sport compelling even without playoffs. It also sets up intriguing David vs. Goliath matchups if Dunlap turns pro soon.
What Next for Golf’s Breakout Amateur?
All eyes are now focused on what Dunlap’s next move will be after his fairytale win at the American Express. Some possibilities:
Turns Professional for Farmers Insurance Open
Having spent his whole career to date as an amateur, Dunlap could capitalize immediately by turning pro in time for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He’d forfeit his Masters invitation but lock up substantial sponsorship dollars right away.
Remains Amateur Through the Masters
Ifhistory and the glory of Augusta call, Dunlap may choose to delay going pro until after playing the Masters in April. He’d be the youngest participant since a 16-year old Jack Nicklaus played in 1957. Saying no to short-term millions is risky but could pay off long-term.
Returns to College Golf Dominance
Dunlap has unfinished business as Alabama’s star player in leading them to potential team and individual NCAA titles this spring. Leveraging his newfound name recognition on that stage could negate leaving early.
Inks Endorsement Deal to Capitalize on Fame
As an amateur Dunlap can’t accept prize money, but endorsement deals are permitted under strict NCAA guidelines. Cashing in now with an equipment or apparel deal allows capitalizing on his fame while retaining college eligibility.
Wherever Dunlap goes from here, all eyes will be fixed on golf’s newest phenom. Despite his win coming out of left field, those closest to him continue to emphasize that they expected this level of greatness all along:
“It’s no surprise to me,” stated Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who often plays golf with Dunlap. “I’ve seen the talent and competitive fire Nick has on the course. We’re so proud of his achievement but I know this is just the start for him.”
As Dunlap’s teammate on Alabama’s golf team, junior Carson Rogers has witnessed Dunlap’s development up close over the past couple years:
“His work ethic and drive to be the best is just unbelievable for someone his age. Nick lives at the course and spends every minute focused on improvement. This win is awesome but definitely not the ceiling for him.”
Whether as an amateur or professional, Dunlap clearly has the ability and mindset to continue competing and contending at golf’s highest level. The historic American Express triumph will serve as just the springboard for a career destined only for greatness. Strap in for the Nick Dunlap show—it’s poised to be golf’s next can’t-miss attraction for years to come.
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