Ripple effect

Jim Nantz just compared Nick Dunlap's PGA Tour win to one of the biggest sports milestones of all time

January 23, 2024

Harry How

Although Nick Dunlap is not the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event, Jim Nantz believes that Dunlap’s victory Sunday in The American Express represents a kind of breakthrough in the game, calling it a “Roger Bannister moment.”

The late Sir Roger Bannister was the first man to break the four-minute mile, achieving the feat in 1954. His record time of 3:59.4 lasted just 46 days, but he had blazed a trail. And perhaps that’s what Dunlap, a sophomore at the University of Alabama and the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, might have done.

“I think it’s a harbinger. I think there’s going to be a ripple effect,” Nantz, the longtime CBS golf anchor, said Tuesday during an exclusive Zoom call with Golf Digest.

CBS begins its 2024 schedule of the PGA Tour television coverage at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open from Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. Just as he did a year ago, Nantz, who also is lead play-by-play announcer for the network’s NFL games, will be calling the action for the final two rounds on Friday and Saturday remotely, this time from Baltimore, site of the AFC Championship where the Ravens host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

The Farmers Insurance Open begins Wednesday and ends Saturday to avoid Sunday’s NFL conference championship games.

Dunlap, who outdueled playing partners Justin Thomas and Sam Burns, two players ranked among the top 30 in the world, at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., became the first amateur since Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open to capture a tour title and the seventh overall. The only golfer outside of Tiger Woods to have won the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Junior Amateur titles, Dunlap was going to play at Torrey Pines on a sponsor’s exemption but withdrew. The Amex victory also gave him an exemption into next week’s $20 million signature event at Pebble Beach (as well as other signature events in 2024) should he decide to turn professional before and accept his tour membership. His future plans, however, remain unclear.

Winning at PGA West also exempted him on the PGA Tour through 2026 so long as he chooses to turn pro in 2024.

“It's been exciting. We haven't exactly had the winners yet that we would've all expected going into these events. In a lot of ways that's kind of fun because all the golf fans out there get to learn about somebody new,” said CBS golf analyst Trevor Immelman, who joined Nantz, golf producer Sellers Shy and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus on the call. McManus is preparing for his final run at CBS, stepping own in April after the Masters.

“I was thinking about it today," Immelman continued, "when you consider the players that he [Dunlap] was just playing with in the final group and these guys that he's staring down trying to win for the first time when he's a sophomore at Alabama. He's staring some pretty stiff competition and handled himself so well. The maturity he showed, not just his game but the way he conducted himself, the things he said in the interviews afterwards was I thoroughly enjoyed watching that finish.”

Two weeks ago Nantz was in Buffalo for an AFC first-round playoff game between the Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers that was postponed a day because of a severe snowstorm. Confined to his hotel room, he watched plenty of the Sony Open in Hawaii that weekend. He was in the midst of calling the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Bills and Chiefs when Dunlap beat a field that included 21 of the top 50 in the world in just his fourth start in a tour event.

“What Nick Dunlap did, we know that it had been done in ‘91 by Phil and in ’85 by [Scott] Verplank, but it felt like a Roger Bannister kind of a moment because the game that has got more depth now. I think you could argue from one to 1,000—and I know he jumped 4,000 in the world ranking points—but there's so much depth in the game. There are so many good young players. I think that gives a lot of players the ability to say to themselves, ‘I can break the four-minute mile, too.’ If he can do that, I can do that. So I think it's a harbinger.

“I think we're going to see some really crazy and wonderful things happen by players that we don't even know about right now,” Nantz added. “Just as we learned about Nick Dunlap, I think it feeds into this sport. Players feed off of what they see others do. They’re saying, ‘What Tiger did … I want to be like, I want to be able to do that. What Nick just did, I want to be like that.’ So it was a significant moment to set up the year.”