Sports

Future is now? Dunlap WDs to mull pro golf move

Nick Dunlap, the University of Alabama sophomore who on Sunday became the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour in more than three decades, has withdrawn from the field for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California.

“After a life changing last 24 hours, I’ve decided to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open,” Dunlap said Monday in a statement. “I plan to return home to Alabama to be with family, friends and teammates. Thank you to Farmers Insurance and American Express for giving me these opportunities.”

With his victory at the American Express in La Quinta, California, Dunlap became the first amateur to win on tour since Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Northern Telecom Championship. The 20-year-old is only the fifth amateur to win on tour since 1950 and the second-youngest champion in the past 90 years. Jordan Spieth won the 2013 John Deere Classic when he was 19.

As an amateur, Dunlap forfeited the $1.5 million winner’s purse and the 500 FedEx Cup points that came with it.

Now, he must decide whether to return to Alabama for the remainder of his second collegiate season or join the PGA Tour as a full-time member.

“I don’t know,” Dunlap said after his par putt on the 72nd hole gave him a 1-shot victory over South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout. “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. It’s a conversation I need to have with a lot of people before I make that decision.”

Discussions about Dunlap’s future started Sunday night. By capturing the American Express, he earned full-time PGA Tour membership through the 2026 season. He can accept that membership until 30 days after this season ends. He earned full exemptions of a professional winner, including spots in the lucrative signature-series events such as next month’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Players Championship, which have purses of at least $20 million.

“If this is what he decides to do, we support him because we’ve done our job,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell told ESPN on Monday. “We’ve helped him, and he is a valuable part of our team and will be for the rest of his life. And if so, then we’ll move forward and we’ll support him in that. I’m going to let him make that decision with his family and all that. They’ve asked me to at least sit in on it, but in the end it will be their decision.”

Dunlap is a lifelong Alabama fan and enjoys competing with his teammates, Seawell said. Dunlap had goals of leading the Crimson Tide to an SEC title and national championship. He could still play in the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open as an amateur if he returns to school.

“He has a huge sense of team and you saw the reaction of our players,” Seawell said. “They’re a very close group and leaving in the middle of a season I know would tear on him a little bit. He did have dreams when he came.”

Alabama senior Canon Claycomb said he wouldn’t fault Dunlap for turning pro. Dunlap’s teammates have been calling him one of the top 50 players in the world for the past several months, according to Claycomb, after he became only the second player — Tiger Woods is the other — to win both the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur.

“I don’t think anybody on the team would blame him,” Claycomb said. “We want Nick to do what the best thing for Nick is, and if that’s him turning pro, then that’s him turning pro. I know he loves the team, and I know he loves all of us, but it’s not about us in this moment. It’s about him and what he needs to do to be the best version of himself and to have the best opportunity to play on the PGA Tour for a long time.”

Alabama’s season resumes at the Watersound Invitational on Feb. 19. The team was returning to campus Sunday from a practice session in Orange Beach, Alabama, when they pulled over to watch Dunlap make a 6-footer to win.

“We were on a back road,” Claycomb said. “We pulled off in the middle-of-nowhere Alabama. We barely had Wi-Fi, barely could watch, but we pulled off to the side of the road and watched that final hole. It was awesome.”

Regardless of what Dunlap decides, Seawell believes his star player is more than ready for a full-time career on the PGA Tour. Dunlap is the only player to win the U.S. Junior Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and a PGA Tour event as an amateur. He carded an 11-under 59 and won a local tournament by 13 shots when he was 12. In 2021, he posted a 62 in a Monday qualifier to make the field in a Korn Ferry Tour event.

“This wasn’t some kid who caught lightning in a bottle,” Seawell said. “I think he’s going to be a historic figure in the game. I do. He’s already done things that most haven’t done, and I just think that’s who he is.

“If he stays healthy and all the things that happen in athletics, I think he could be … I don’t want to say Jack [Nicklaus] or Tiger, but he’s the first person I’ve ever seen that could be. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him, but I do think he’s a guy who I think has the ability and the mindset and the physicality to be historic in this game.”

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