Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club

On to the Pros

Nick Dunlap decides to turn pro after historic PGA Tour win, set to debut at Pebble Beach

January 25, 2024

Nick Dunlap speaks to the media after winning The American Express.

Orlando Ramirez

In a decision that seemed inevitable from the time the last putt dropped in his historic win, Nick Dunlap announced Thursday at a press conference in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that he has decided to become a professional golfer.

The 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Alabama will make his first start as a pro next week in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which boasts a $20 million purse as one of the PGA Tour’s signature events. Dunlap earned the right to accept a bounty of competitive and financial opportunities when he won The American Express at PGA West last Sunday, becoming only the eighth amateur to triumph on the tour and the first since 1991.

"It was the easiest hardest decision I've ever had to make, by far" said a tearful Dunlap.

Dunlap, who was not able to accept the $1.5 million champion’s check, was set to play in this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, originally on a sponsor’s exemption and then by virtue of his Amex victory, but he decided to go home to Alabama and mull his future with family and advisors.

Ultimately, it figured that there was far too much upside for the reigning U.S. Amateur champion to do anything but turn pro. The Amex win gives him an exemption through 2026 on the PGA Tour, and while he originally qualified for the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship by capturing last summer’s U.S. Am title at Cherry Hills, Dunlap now gets into the Masters and PGA Championship as a tour winner. The U.S. Open allows the U.S. Am champion to turn pro and retain a place in the field, so the only sticking point is the Open Championship requiring him to have remained an amateur. Of course, Dunlap could earn his way into the season’s fourth major through his Official World Golf Ranking position. He currently stands at 68th—having risen more than 4,000 spots with the win—and the top 50 in the OWGR automatically qualify for the Open when the rankings are released in May.

After playing at Pebble Beach, by turning pro Dunlap is now also exempt into the field at next month's Genesis Invitational, as well as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship in March.

Dunlap’s Amex victory has been lauded as one of the golf’s extraordinary accomplishments in the last 40 years. The Amex in La Quinta., Calif., featured a field of four of the top 10 and 22 of the top 50 in the OWGR. Dunlap was playing on a sponsor’s exemption in only his fourth tour event and hadn’t made the cut in the previous three.

He opened the tournament by scoring 64-65, and then seized the outright lead by scorching La Quinta County Club for 10 birdies and an eagle in a round of 60. Playing in Sunday’s final group on the PGA West Stadium Course with five-time tour winner Sam Burns and two-time major champ Justin Thomas. Dunlap overcame some mid-round nerves, tied Burns for the lead with a birdie at the 16th, and prevailed with pars at 17 and 18, while Burns double bogeyed the last two.

“Clearly, he is just a professional in a college kid's body at the moment,” six-time PGA Tour winner Max Homa said this week. “The ‘A’ next to his name is just for looks. That was pretty special.”

The hard part for Dunlap was discussing things with his college teammates and coach and breaking to them that he was leaving mid-season. "I didn't plan on this," Dunlap said. "A week ago today, if you told me I’d have the opportunity to live out my dream as a 20-year-old—it’s pretty surreal. But it’s also scary, there’s a lot of changes. ... [But] I was given a really cool opportunity and wanted to chase that."

A spectacular amateur career laid the groundwork for where Dunlap finds himself today. In a junior golf experience that included Dunlap once shooting 59, he won the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur. Then last summer in the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, Dunlap dispatched in match play the then top-ranked amateur in the world, Gordon Sargent, and ultimately won the final 4 and 3 over Neal Shipley. That put him in rare territory, with Tiger Woods being the only other golfer to win both of the USGA’s signature men’s amateur events.

“Just to be in the same conversation as Tiger is a dream come true and something that I've worked my entire life for,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap won two other prestigious tournaments in 2023—the 61st Northeast Amateur and 123rd North & South Amateur—and played for the U.S. Walker Cup team that was victorious at St. Andrews.