Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)

Celebrate Good Times

How well did Nick Dunlap celebrate his win? We turn to the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale

January 22, 2024

Orlando Ramirez

How often does the best story that could possibly play out at a PGA Tour event actually play out? At this past weekend's American Express, the only amateur golfer in the field actually won the thing, becoming the first am to do so since Phil Mickelson in 1991. His final round was amazing, and should go down as one of the great PGA Tour moments of the year, regardless of what happens in the next 11 months. All over Golf Digest, you can read plenty about Dunlap, but here, we focus on one thing and one thing only: The celebration. In the moment of triumph, did he unleash his best? Dunlap has a tough act to follow, because last week, Grayson Murray set a new C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale record with his win at the Sony. Could an amateur possibly live up to it? Let's over-analyze the hell out of it, folks.

Here's a quick reminder of how the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale works: Using 11 different criteria, each rated from 1-10, we come up with a comprehensive score that can be used as a measure of excellence and a comparison to past and future celebrations. The criteria:

Crowd Work: When you win, are you a man of the people, saluting the folks outside of the ropes?
Elation: How much did you let loose?
Looper Moment: That first hug/fist bump/whatever with the caddie is so important.
Emotion: You know you get MASSIVE points for tears in this one.
Body Work: Separate from elation/emotion, how good was the sheer physicality?
Relations: Family? Friends? Agents?
Awkwardness: Golf can be an awkward sport; here, we’re OK with that that—and we reward it.
Theatrics: A catch-all category for any other BIG elements of the celebration.
Interview: The victory interview … how well did they respond?
Opponent interaction: Was there respect shown to the enemy? We love respect.
N-tangibles: Anything—and everything—else.

In the ratings below, we'll refer to this video, which we thank the PGA Tour for providing:

1. Crowd Work

Okay, one one hand, Dunlap made the error we've seen a lot of players make lately, which is that for the first several moments after his putt, his energy is focused internally, and to the people nearest him. No wave, no crowd acknowledgment. As I've said before, this has become an epidemic before; in a perfect world, you want these guys doing Lambeau Leaps into the grandstand. BUT, at 1:50, clearly overwhelmed by the moment, he does acknowledge the crowd with a short wave, and in his interview at 6:04, he took a question about his support system and broadened it out to the crowd, and earlier he apologized for hitting someone with his approach on 18. He's not setting the world on fire here, but not doing the bare minimum either. A good start.

Score: 5.4/10

2. Elation

I would describe Dunlap's reaction, starting at 1:03 with the made putt and pretty much continuing throughout the video, as a kind of elation that is simultaneously overwhelming and controlled. The roar he lets out at making the putt is enormous, but you can see how he quickly almost restrains himself because he can't believe what's happening. It's all playing out in his face and he half wants to scream and half doesn't know what to do, so he defaults to trying to hold it in...with only some success. All of this is endearing, as is his inability in the aftermath to say anything but "I appreciate it" to everyone from his coach to his girlfriend as he tries to hold back tears. It's a different kind of elation than just going wild, but it's no less cool.

Score: 8.1/10

3. Looper Moment

We learned afterward that his caddie Hunter Hamrick told him "even your mom could make this" before his final putt, which is hilarious. The hug they shared at 1:08 was a good one, if a little quick, and Hamrick hits him with a back slap on the way out. There's also a shot at 2:37 of Hamrick making sure to take the flag from 18, a half-funny half-poignant moment, but I regret that the integrity of the Scale means I can't give Dunlap extra points for this.

Score: 4.2/10

4. Emotion

ABSOLUTELY *$%*ING OFF THE CHARTS. The visceral yell, the overwhelmed deer-in-headlights look, and the tears. We finally have tears, after weeks of this Scale being in operation. He ran through the gamut here, and gave us everything you could ask for. Did I mention there were tears?

Score: 9.8/10

5. Body Work

Starting at 1:00, Dunlap gives us the classic "come on!" shout with the single fist clench and the backward walk, and then he makes the move to transition to the full-on punch, but something stops him. As noted earlier, it almost seemed like there was a governor in him, something keeping him in the stratosphere based on how wild it must have felt, and that restricting impulse turned the fist pump into a kind of soft hammer blow, a bit anticlimactic after the yell. From there, he transitions right into the caddie hug, so that's about as much as we get. It's not bad, but you can tell he's got the ability to give us more. Especially after Murray's dynamite work last week, this feels slightly underwhelming.

Score: 5.7/10

6. Relations

Amazing work here. It seems like everyone who ever met him throughout his entire childhood showed up at the AmEx, which is as it should be when you're 20 and about to make history. I don't think we've seen a better entourage than this, and it starts right away with his mom and dad and girlfriend chatting nervously before he takes his putt. After he gets done congratulating his opponents, he first greets his parents, and his mom gets in there first just saying "oh my gosh!" over and over. "You have no idea how proud we are of you," she says, while his dad just kind of grins in shock. There's another guy I don't know waiting for him next, then it's to his coach Jay Seawell, who presents him with a milkshake. Then a nice hug with his girlfriend Izzy, who, it must be said, patiently waits her turn and was classy enough to let his parents go first, a couple other dudes I don't know, and it seems like it might have gone on forever if they hadn't cut to commercial. A truly excellent group effort here, and a new standard for the Scale.

Score: 10/10

7. Awkwardness

We haven't had much awkwardness on the Scale through its first few weeks, and Dunlap actually seems like a pretty cool customer himself, but the way he says "I appreciate it" to his girlfriend, like she's a random well-wisher, is suitably awkward to register some real points. Don't worry, Izzy, he'll get better.

Score: 6.8/10

8. Theatrics

Not a very theatrical guy, at least not in that overwhelming moment. It was all he could do to keep it together. I was ready to give him a perfect 10 if he had gone along with Seawell's joke and taken the milkshake, but he was way too deep in shock to pull it off. It's not a 0 here, because his first celebratory instincts were good, but overall he kept it together and frankly, keeping it together loses you points.

Score: 2.9/10

9. Interview

Not an easy one to pull off—fresh off an absurd win, tears in your eyes, blown away by circumstance, and having to compose yourself for a national audience. But Dunlap was terrific. From the story about being tested and facing adversity for the first time on 7, to waxing on how nothing went to plan, to the philosophical take that the script was already written, he was interesting from the get-go. You come away from the interview thinking he's an intelligent guy, and someone who will be fascinating to listen to for the next decade and more as he makes his mark on the sport. He was also dead honest about not knowing what lead he had, and how it changed his strategy on 18 (along with the apology to the fan he pasted). Then he finishes by shouting out his caddie. A good guy! We like this guy!

Score: 9.7/10

10. Opponent Interaction

In his post-round presser, Dunlap spoke about how Thomas and Burns, his final round partners, kind of sherpa'ed him through the experience even as they were competing with him. It was a lucky group to draw for such a momentous round, and he gave them plenty of respect. How did he do on the course? Solid! He hugs Burns first, then goes right to Thomas, who gives him a smile, a hug, and a brief chat, and then he takes a moment for both caddies while Thomas and Hamrick yuck it up. Nothing revolutionary here, he lets the older guys set the tone, but all in all well executed and respectful.

Score: 5.3/10

11. N-Tangibles

His go-to move when he's in shock is to grab his head, scratch his hair, grab his hat, or just hold it there in stunned disbelief. The official count for me before the interview was 17 times in three minutes and change, including whatever the opposite of a surrender cobra is at 2:20, and a "basketball referee calling a charge at 2:30." More people should do this. A great way to express a certain kind of intense emotion is to go right for your own head.

Score: 7.9/10

Overall Score: 75.8/10

Final Analysis: A week ago, this would have been enough to put him in the top spot. In the end, Murray was just a little too good, but make no mistake, this is a tremendous rookie effort for Dunlap, and with some hard work, some focus and a little choreography, he could easily become one of the celebration greats. But first, the man must learn to take the milkshake.