Nick Dunlap becomes first amateur to win on PGA Tour in 33 years

Nick Dunlap after making a putt at the American Express.

Nick Dunlap is the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour in 33 years.

Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

If you can compel Nick Saban, the recently retired seven-time National Championship-winning head football coach at the University of Alabama, to call into a PGA Tour broadcast and talk about you, you must be doing something right.

Nick Dunlap did a lot right this week at the American Express in Palm Springs, Calif., becoming the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson in 1991.

When Saban called in, however, Dunlap was seemingly fading. The three-shot lead with which he began the day was gone after 10 holes. He shanked his tee shot on the par-4 7th into a lake, leading to a double. Five-time Tour winner Sam Burns had matched Dunlap at 27 under.

But Saban had some words of advice for Dunlap, who won the U.S. Amateur last summer but had never been in a situation like this before.

“Play the next play, focus on the next shot regardless of what happened on the last shot,” Saban said on the Golf Channel broadcast. “Focus on the next shot. Stay focused on the — not the outcome but the — what you have to do to get the outcome, which is a process to me.

“I think that’s the key to being successful.”

Dunlap didn’t hear Saban’s interview, but he played like he had.

Dunlap birdied the 8th, then picked up two more, on 14 and 16, to catch Burns. Suddenly, the notion of Dunlap dropping from contention was gone. The kid could win this thing.

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After Dunlap found the green at PGA West’s island-green par-3 17th, it was Burns’ turn. Immediately after impact, he let go of his club. He had blocked his tee shot right into the pond. Dunlap was in control.

Dunlap parred 17 and 18, benefiting from a great bounce on his approach at the 72nd to shoot a final-round 70 to win the American Express by one stroke. He is just the fifth amateur to win on the PGA Tour since 1940.

“It’s everything that I dreamed of and just to have a chance on the last hole to win a PGA Tour event is really special,” Dunlap said.

He’s also the second-youngest player to win a PGA Tour event, sliding in behind Jordan Spieth, who won in 2013 when he was 19.

Dunlap secured the win with a clutch up-and-down from the right side of the green at 18 after his approach had caromed off spectators and mounding. Christiaan Bezuidenhout had birdied the 18th in the group before to climb within one stroke of Dunlap at 28 under, but the amateur slammed the door with a 5-foot-9-inch par save for history.

“As a kid, you kind of whack it around all over the putting green and every putt’s for a chance to win, whether that’s a PGA Tour event, the Masters, the U.S. Open,” Dunlap said. “And to have that putt, I took a little bit longer than I normally might, and just take in the moment and nothing’s for granted. I may not ever have that chance again, and I just want to embrace it. You know, like I said, it may not ever happen again.”

Mickelson was one of the first to offer his congratulations over Twitter.

“Such an impressive performance by Nick Dunlap,” the six-time major winner wrote. “Congratulations on an incredible win. This is just the beginning.”

Dunlap now how has an interesting choice to make as the win earns him a membership to the PGA Tour through the 2026 season should he turn pro. He can defer his membership for 2025 up until 30 days after the conclusion of this season. If he wants to pick up membership for 2026, he can only do so after the 2025 season. However, the win does get him into the rest of 2024’s Signature events and the Players Championship.

“Oh, boy,” Dunlap said when asked about the decision. “It’s really cool to have that opportunity in the first place, and starting the week, if you would have said, hey, in five days you’re going to have a PGA Tour card or an opportunity for two years, I would have looked at you sideways.

“But, no, that’s something that doesn’t just affect me, it affects a lot of people, coach back there and my teammates and it’s a conversation I need to have with a lot of people before I make that decision.”

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