Twenty-year-old Nick Dunlap became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson in 1991 by capturing The American Express title on Sunday in La Quinta, Calif.
Dunlap got up and down for par at the 72nd hole at the PGA West Pete Dye Stadium Course to shoot 2-under 70 for the round and 29-under 259 for the week, one ahead of South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
The reigning U.S. Amateur champion and sophomore at Alabama is just the third amateur to win on tour since 1957, joining Mickelson (1991 Northern Telecom Open) and Scott Verplank (1985 Western Open). Dunlap is also the second-youngest tour winner in 90 years, behind Jordan Spieth’s win at the 2013 John Deere Classic as a 19-year-old.
“Honestly, I felt the script today was already written,” Dunlap said after his round. “I was going to go give it everything I had. Whether that’s I shoot 75 or 65 or 70, I just was going to give it everything I had.”
He called the emotions he experienced down the stretch “nothing like I had ever felt.”
The win gives Dunlap a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and qualifies him for The Players Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship. He does not take home any winnings, but he has a suddenly difficult decision about whether to leave Alabama early and turn pro.
“I don’t know,” Dunlap told PGA Tour Radio. “I have to take a second to let what just happened sink in a little bit. That’s a decision that’s not just about me. It affects a lot of people, and obviously I’m going to try to enjoy this.”
Dunlap opened the tournament 64-65-60, having racked up 10 birdies and an eagle to shoot 12 under at La Quinta Country Club in Saturday’s third round.
He began Sunday with a three-shot lead over Sam Burns but found the water on the par-4 seventh hole and made double bogey. Dunlap responded with birdies at Nos. 8 and 14, and after chipping to 10 1/2 feet at the par-5 16th, he sank a birdie putt to tie Burns at 29 under.
“I told (caddie Hunter Hamrick) that we hadn’t faced much adversity yet, and hitting my ball in the water on 7, it tested everything I had,” Dunlap said. “I missed a couple putts that I thought I was going to make. … I went over a scenario for today probably a million times and it’s never going to go how you plan, and it didn’t.
“I’m so happy to be standing here.”
Dunlap then landed his tee shot at the par-3 17th on the island green and Burns proceeded to find the water.
Dunlap made par but hit his tee shot at No. 18 landed on a mound far right of the fairway. After Burns found the water for the second straight hole, Dunlap’s second shot traveled 194 yards and rolled down a different mound into a far corner of the fairway, setting up another remarkable chip to 6 feet.
Bezuidenhout, meanwhile, eagled the par-4 15th and birdied the 18th to polish off a bogey-free 65 and make Dunlap’s final par putt necessary to avoid a playoff.
“(Hamrick) was so calm all day, his attitude never changed,” Dunlap said. “Just kind of, his last thing is, like, ‘Man, this is inside left, you made a million of these putts before, it’s just another one.'”
Bezuidenhout, who received the winner’s share of the prize money, lauded the amateur’s accomplishment.
“It’s amazing,” Bezuidenhout said. “Actually, I heard his name last year when he won the U.S. Amateur. Yeah, he’s obviously a hell of a player and congrats to him and hopefully he can be out on the PGA Tour soon, and we all can get to play with him.”
Justin Thomas played in the final group with Dunlap and Burns. Thomas attended Alabama and roomed with Dunlap’s caddie there. Thomas shot 4-under 68 to tie for third at 27 under with Kevin Yu of Taiwan (63) and Xander Schauffele (65). Thomas finished his round with a 15-foot birdie putt, then watched Dunlap have his crowning moment.
Burns, meanwhile, finished with two double bogeys and carded a 71, tying for sixth at 25 under with Michael Kim (65) and Canadian Adam Hadwin (67).
– – Field Level Media