Nick Dunlap wins American Express, first amateur to win on PGA Tour since 1991

Nick Dunlap made PGA Tour history Sunday, becoming the first amateur in 33 years to win on tour by claiming The American Express in La Quinta, Calif. He trailed five-time tour winner and Ryder Cup vet Sam Burns on the back nine before rallying over the final three holes to finish 29-under. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Dunlap, 20, is a sophomore at Alabama. By becoming the first player since Phil Mickelson in 1991 to win on the PGA Tour before turning professional Dunlap has a two-year exemption into the tour’s biggest events when he does decide to leave college golf. After winning the U.S. Amateur last year he is already eligible for all four majors in 2024.
  • Dunlap and Burns were tied going to the par-3 17th, but Dunlap put his tee shot on the green and watched as Burns found water and ended up with double bogey.
  • Dunlap shot a third-round 60 on Saturday to take a three-shot lead over Burns and four over Justin Thomas going into Sunday, then shot a 70 on Sunday to win the tournament.

What happened

Dunlap had a three-stroke lead stepping to the par-4 7th hole, which features a forced carry off the tee. Unfortunately, the amateur found water with his first tee shot — he knew it instantly, letting the club go in his backswing. He had to drop, lay up and had a 15-footer for bogey that he could not scare the cup on. When Burns birdied the same hole it created a tie and allowed most of the rest of the top 10 to feel like they were back in this thing. Burns took the lead with birdies on 10 and 11.

So for most of the back nine Sunday it seemed like Dunlap’s story was going to be of a young player with tremendous promise coming up just a bit short against a certified star like Burns. But Dunlap’s father told Golf Channel in an on-course interview that his son may just have enough in him to get the lead back, and he was right. A birdie on the par-5 16th got Dunlap to 29-under and a tie with Burns, sending the duo (Thomas had fallen off the pace) to No. 17 for a two-hole shootout. It didn’t take long to find a victor.

Burns, who had zero bogeys in his last 24 holes, missed the island green on Pete Dye’s Stadium Course right, splashing into the water. He had to take a drop, then two-putted to fall two off the lead. Meanwhile, Dunlap looked like the vet in finding the green and two-putting for par.

Burns then put his tee shot on 18 into the water left of the fairway and doubled the hole, finishing tied for sixth.

Dunlap missed the fairway (a frequent occurrence Sunday) but his approach play was again top-notch, staying right and away from water. His second shot got him green-side, and his third rolled to within six feet of the hole. He dropped the putt into the cup, let go with a fist pump, then hugged his caddy, family and girlfriend.

Christian Bezuidenhout finished second at 28-under after shooting a final-round 65.

What this means for Dunlap

Here’s the history part: In addition to the tie with Mickelson, Dunlap is also the second-youngest person to win on the PGA Tour since World War II (Jordan Spieth is the first) and the first reigning U.S. Amateur champion since Tiger Woods in 1996 to win on the PGA Tour. Mickelson, Spieth and Tiger? Pretty good company.

Dunlap, who is 20 years and 29 days old, does not have to turn pro automatically to maintain the privileges of his win — though under his amateur status, he has lost out on the $1.51 million earmarked for the winner of The American Express.

Regardless of when he removes the (a) from his name on leaderboards, Dunlap is a very big deal who cemented his status as a rising star in professional golf this weekend. It was one thing to shoot 64-65-60 over the first three days of the tournament, playing with a very small gallery following him. On Sunday he was with Burns and Thomas in the final group, with all that entails. Even when he wasn’t making putts and settling for pars over the first 15 holes, he never looked rattled, focusing on the self-belief techniques he has made a priority in his round preparation.

“Hitting that ball in the water on 7 tested everything I had,” Dunlap told The Golf Channel.

Required reading

(Top photo of Nick Dunlap: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

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