February 28th, 2024

Nick Dunlap becomes 1st amateur winner on PGA Tour since 1991 with victory at The American Express

By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press on January 21, 2024.

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) – Nick Dunlap became the first amateur in 33 years to win on the PGA Tour, holding on for a one-shot victory over Christiaan Bezuidenhout at The American Express on Sunday.

Dunlap, the 20-year-old University of Alabama sophomore and reigning U.S. Amateur champion, is the first amateur winner since Phil Mickelson at the Tucson Open in 1991. Playing in just his fourth tour event, he became only the seventh amateur winner since 1945 – and the third since 1957.

The only amateur in the 156-player field in the tournament long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, Dunlap surged into a three-shot lead with a sizzling 60 in the third round. He lost that lead Sunday on the front nine on the Stadium Course at PGA West, but he played with the resilience of a seasoned veteran down the stretch, capped by his recovery from two errant shots on the 18th to finish with a 6-foot par putt.

“Nothing like I’ve ever felt,” Dunlap said. “It was so cool to be out here and experience this as an amateur.”

He ended up with a 2-under 70 to finish at 29-under 259 and break the tournament scoring record as a 72-hole event. He’s also the youngest winner in the event’s history, and he became the youngest amateur to win on the tour since 1910.

Bezuidenhout birdied the 18th in the group ahead to keep pressure on Dunlap, whose tee shot landed high in the rough. His second shot wasn’t much more accurate, but took a fortunate roll from the rough into a grassy drainage area off the green.

Dunlap got inside 6 feet with his third shot, and he celebrated the par putt for the title with hugs from his parents, his girlfriend and his college coach, Jay Seawell, who all flew cross-country over the weekend to watch in person.

Dunlap got the celebration for one of the most impressive performances in recent golf history, but he doesn’t get the $1.5 million first-place prize, which goes to Bezuidenhout after the South African’s final-round 65.

Dunlap also doesn’t get the 500 FedEx Cup points – but his rewards are still ample, starting with a two-year PGA Tour exemption through 2026. He can compete in full-field events even if he stays at Alabama, and he can compete in signature events if he turns pro.

Dunlap showed mental toughness while playing through obvious nerves in his final round. His three-shot lead vanished all at once when he double-bogeyed the seventh while Sam Burns birdied it, but Dunlap coolly rebounded and battled Burns down the stretch, pulling even with a birdie on the 16th.

And then Burns was the one who flinched, completely missing the famed island green on the 17th and hitting the water with his 164-yard drive. He also missed a 26-foot bogey putt, abruptly handing a two-shot lead to Dunlap going to the 18th.

Dunlap thought he still had a two-stroke lead when he teed it up, since he and his caddy didn’t check the leaderboard or see Bezuidenhout’s birdie. His first two errant shots heightened the tension, but Dunlap came through with the biggest par of his life.

Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Yu tied for third at 27 under. Burns led the event after two rounds with a career-low 61, and he was tied with two holes to play Sunday before hitting into the water on each of his final two holes and carding back-to-back double bogeys, finishing in a tie for sixth.

___ AP golf: https://apnews.com/golf

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