TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Dunlap struggles to explain what’s happened to him in the last week.
Sure, the Alabama golfer won the U.S. Amateur Championship last year, putting him on a fast track to a prolific career, but nothing could have prepared him for sinking a putt Sunday to win the American Express Tournament that made him, at just 20 years and 33 days old, the youngest amateur to win a PGA Tour event since 1910.
Dunlap announced Thursday that he is leaving the UA golf team to accept PGA Tour membership. A college sophomore, he’ll jump straight from the SEC to being a pro in next week’s AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. He got emotional when he announced his decision, particularly because it means leaving his Crimson Tide teammates in mid-season.
“Gosh dang, I didn’t think I was going to cry,” Dunlap said.
In some ways, he doesn’t even seem 20 yet. And he’s not quite ready to let go of his youthful side.
For instance, he’s going to finish out his apartment lease in Tuscaloosa.
“I’m going to continue to live here and hang out with the guys,” he said. “… I still want to be around and play ping-pong with them.”
He intends to complete a business degree through UA’s online distance learning program.
“I don’t think my parents would be too happy if I didn’t,” he said.
And as if he couldn’t be more kid-like, he revealed Thursday that he injured his shoulder last year between the quarterfinals and semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, which he went on to win, on a Dave & Busters arcade game in which he had to knock down clown dolls by firing balls at them.
This from a guy who just had to watch the $1.5 million in prize money he should’ve earned by winning the AmEx, due to his amateur status, instead get passed along to AmEx runner-up Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Heck, the PGA Tour’s latest tournament champion is only several years removed from junior tournaments in which he would phone coaches while walking the fairway in need of advice.
“One time he called me, he might’ve been 15, in the middle of a tournament, playing poorly. He doesn’t even play for us yet. He says, ‘I’m playing so bad, I had to talk to somebody, so I wanted to call you,’” said UA golf coach Jay Seawell. “He asks if I can help him with his swing, and I say ‘Nick, you’re 200 miles…