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Money

Here are the ways Nick Dunlap could still cash in even after missing out on the $1.5 million winner’s check

January 22, 2024
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Amateur Nick Dunlap greatly increased his financial prospects for when he turns pro after winning the American Express.

Orlando Ramirez

Nick Dunlap got a trophy, a firm handshake and clarity about where he can tee it up through 2026 thanks to his win at the American Express. What he didn’t get was the prize money professionals can accept. Dunlap, a 20-year-old University of Alabama sophomore, set himself up for plenty of complicated decisions—turn professional and cash in or stay amateur and try to win an NCAA title with his Alabama teammates—but whatever he decides, he won’t be living on ramen noodles and Taco Bell. Here’s how Dunlap’s financial horizon looks in the near term and what factors he’s undoubtedly considering before deciding where to tee it up next.

How much could Dunlap make if he turns professional right now?

There aren’t any recent precedents for amateurs winning PGA Tour events, but two amateur stars who might serve as comparables are Victor Hovland and Bryson DeChambeau, both U.S. Amateur champions who turned pro less than a year after winning the Havemeyer Trophy. Agents who spoke to Golf Digest for our 2023 ranking of the highest-paid players placed those two as receiving $3 million to $5 million for clubs and clothes upon turning professional—Hovland in the summer of 2019 and DeChambeau after the 2016 Masters.

What events could Dunlap play in if he turns pro?

Pretty much all of them. With the exception of his exemption into the Open Championship for winning the 2023 U.S. Amateur, which he would lose if he becomes a professional, Dunlap could play in the other three majors, the Players Championship and, perhaps most importantly, the rest of the signature events on the PGA Tour schedule this season. Those events pay more prize money and confer more FedEx Cup and World Ranking points, which give a young player an enormous advantage when it comes to retaining playing status for multiple years. Compare the entry path for Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa, and it’s easy to see the advantage an early win bestows. Scheffler missed at Q school and had to play a full year on the Korn Ferry Tour before starting his PGA Tour career. Morikawa won the Barracuda Championship and had a couple of top-fives during his first year as a professional and never looked back.

What about LIV?

If Dunlap turns pro and his management team doesn’t field an offer from LIV, they’re committing malpractice. Just as there was a market for Oklahoma State star Eugenio Lopez Chacarra, there’s one for Dunlap. Lopez Chacarra took a LIV deal, won $7 million in prize money and was one of the top 50 earners in golf with his LIV signing bonus added in. As an American reigning U.S. Amateur champ and PGA Tour winner, Dunlap could field a signing bonus orders of magnitude higher than Lopez Chacarra’s estimated $10 million.

Can he profit off his win if he stays an amateur?

Yes, in the same way college football players like Shedeur Sanders and college gymnasts like Olivia Dunne are through Name-Image-Likeness (NIL) payments. College athletes are permitted to accept payment for endorsements, and the USGA has decided that if it’s OK for the NCAA, it’s OK for their competitions, too. Sanders and USC basketball player Bronny James make more than $4.5 million a year. Nobody who plays golf is anywhere near that neighborhood, although Dunlap’s head-to-toe NIL deal with Adidas is bound to go up, especially if the brand wants to keep the inside track to signing him as a professional. Another key factor for NIL money is Dunlap’s exemption into big professional events even if he stays amateur. Those logos will be on television a lot, and that’s what drives big dollars. Whether Dunlap is playing for himself or for the Crimson Tide, there’s sure to be an avalanche of attention on him at Augusta National, and he’s going to get paid for that no matter what.

What happened to the first-place check Dunlap couldn’t accept?

Christiaan Bezuidenhout might not have won, but it was still his lucky day. He cashed the $1.5 million “winner’s” check even though he finished second. He also got the 300 FedEx Cup points that go to a runner-up, putting him in excellent early-season position to stay eligible for the elevated events.