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Nick Dunlap has a chance to make history Sunday, but that wouldn’t even be the first time in the past few months for the 20-year-old.
The Alabama sophomore heads into the final round of the American Express at PGA West three shots clear of the field. The guys chasing him? They’re all professionals. Dunlap is an amateur, looking to be the first to win on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in 1991.
Did people see this coming? Not really. Dunlap has had a storied junior and amateur career thus far, but that success had yet to translate to the PGA Tour until this week. In three previous PGA Tour starts, including the last two U.S. Opens, Dunlap has three missed cuts.
Whether or not Dunlap comes away with the win Sunday in La Quinta, he’ll still be a name to watch moving forward in the highest levels of tournament golf. With that, here are seven things to know about Dunlap as he chases history Sunday.
7 things to know about Nick Dunlap
1. He’s already in rarefied air
As noted above, if Dunlap wins the American Express, he’ll be the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour in 33 years, ending the longest drought without an amateur winner since World War II. Mickelson was the last to accomplish the feat putting Dunlap in good company with the six-time major winner, but that’s nothing he’s not used to.
Not only did Dunlap’s third-round 60 make him one of two amateurs, along with Patrick Cantlay, to shoot that number on the PGA Tour, but he’s also accomplished something only Tiger Woods has too. This past summer, Dunalp won the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club to add to his 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur title. Dunlap and Woods are the only two players to have won both those titles.
2. He rallied to win at Cherry Hills
While he will work to protect the lead Sunday at PGA West, Dunlap put himself in a hole early at last summer’s U.S. Amateur. Early in stroke-play qualifying, Dunlap was five over through seven holes. He credited his caddie that week, longtime mentor and former pro Jeff Curl, with helping him right the ship and ultimately make match play by two shots. The rest was history.
3. A match play savant
Once Dunlap made match play at Cherry Hills, history was in his favor. By the time he clinched the Havermeyer trophy with a 4 and 3 victory over Neal Shipley, he had put together a 30-2 run in his last 32 matches over the prior two years.
He suffered two losses at the Walker Cup last September — while still earning 1.5 points for the victorious U.S. side in his other two matches — but made up for it by defeating Luke Poulter at the SEC Match Play last fall.
4. Going low is nothing new
Dunlap needed two birdies for 59 over his final four holes Saturday. While he only got one, he’s no stranger to being on 59-watch. Already this collegiate season, he posted a 60 during the second round of the Hamptons Intercollegiate. His crazy-low scores get even more impressive as he carded a 59 at Highland Golf Club in Birmingham back in 2013 before he started his seventh-grade year. Yes, seventh (7th) grade…
5. An enviable pro comparison
While Dunlap’s name is already getting mentioned in the same breath as Woods, Mickelson and Cantlay, he believes his game is most similar to another giant of the game: Dustin Johnson.
“I think my long game and driving are fairly similar,” Dunlap said on GOLF’s Subpar podcast last fall. “I think over the past couple of years my putting has gotten a lot better. It’s something I’ve focused a lot on, especially this first year at Bama.”
His stats this week back that up as he’s seventh in the field in driving distance and during the second round, his only one with strokes-gained data, he was second in strokes gained: putting.
6. Roll Tide Roll
As a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide golf team and Tuscaloosa native, Dunlap said he’s gotten the opportunity to get to know now-former Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
“So he spends a lot of time at our facility,” Dunlap said on Subpar. ““What’s cool about him is he’s 71 or 72, however old he is, but he doesn’t just go to play golf and have fun. He has that competitive edge. He’s always trying to get better.
“Before I left for the Am, [Saban] sat for 2.5 hours just picking my brain on what he can get better at.”
7. A career-altering day
While Dunlap cannot take home any of the $1.512 million first-place check this week — or any of the $8.4 million purse — Sunday still has plenty of implications should he win.
Winners on the PGA Tour secure membership for the next two seasons and Dunlap would be no exception, should he turn pro afterward. In fact, he actually has the option to defer his membership — and thus his decision to turn pro — up until 30 days after the conclusion of the 2024 PGA Tour season. If he chooses to turn pro and take advantage of his membership, it would be good through the end of the 2026 season.
If he doesn’t choose to take up membership in time for 2025, he would have a chance to take advantage of membership for 2026, but he would have to opt into it (and turn pro) within 30 days of the conclusion of the 2025 season.
Additionally, if he turns pro, he is exempt into all of the remaining PGA Tour Signature events this season, although he will receive no retroactive FedEx Cup points for this week.
He has a couple of reasons to stay an amateur for the time being, aside from at least finishing out the current spring season in Alabama. In order to hang on to his exemption into the Open Championship from winning the U.S. Am, Dunlap needs to stay an amateur. So too his Masters exemption, however, he would get a new one as a winner of a PGA Tour event and one into the PGA Championship. He is allowed to turn pro and retain his exemption into the U.S. Open.
He can also still play in full-field PGA Tour events if he doesn’t turn pro out of the tournament winner’s category, although he would be limited to just 12 starts as a nonmember until he turns pro and activates his membership.