Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Promising rookie Nick Dunlap took the PGA Tour by storm. Now he’s learning how to be a pro

By admin May18,2024

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Life keeps moving quickly for Nick Dunlap, who’d be a college student right now if he wasn’t so dang good at golf. His journey is already remarkable, and it’s only just starting.

Less than four months after the former University of Alabama golfer turned pro after a stunning PGA Tour victory at The American Express, Dunlap teed it up Thursday in his second major tournament. He carded a 3-over-par 74 in the first round of the 2024 PGA Championship, leaving him in danger of missing the cut in a sea of low scores permitted by a damp and attackable Valhalla course.

“I knew coming out (of Alabama) that it wasn’t going to be all rainbows and butterflies,” Dunlap said after the round. “… It was going to be a learning curve, and I needed to work on things to perform at this kind of level, and I’m still working on that.”

Nick Dunlap plays his shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the 2024 PGA Championship.Nick Dunlap plays his shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the 2024 PGA Championship.

Nick Dunlap plays his shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the 2024 PGA Championship.

Pro golfers will grind for years in the hopes of recording a first PGA Tour victory. The precocious Dunlap made it look too easy. He won as an amateur, and that hardly ever happens. January’s American Express made him the first amateur in 33 years – and only the third since 1956 – to win on the PGA Tour, going back to Phil Mickelson in 1991.

Talk about high expectations. What else could Dunlap, a former U.S. Amateur champion who is now a touring professional at age 20, hope to do as a rookie to top that special moment?

“For me, it just gave me something to think on that I always knew that I could do it, and now I proved myself that I did it,” he said. “Now it’s just trying to get back to kind of that same process I had during Amex. I wasn’t necessarily going out there trying to win. I was just trying to go there and play my best and see how that stacks up.

“Now that I have the expectation of, ‘I can win out here,’ I’ve got to get back to just going out there and trying to do my best. And obviously, trying to win.”

A native of Huntsville, Ala., Dunlap still resides in Tuscaloosa and says he doesn’t have plans to move anywhere yet. Much of the time, he has been traveling anyway.

On the course, it has been hit and miss. In his first five rounds after joining the PGA Tour, Dunlap averaged a score of 73.6, struggles that’d be expected given the whirlwind of his transition from college. There are outstanding young golfers in college, but once you’re there, the highest level hits different for a lot of reasons, as Dunlap is learning.

“There’s a lot more outside of professional golf that I didn’t realize I’d have to deal with,” he said, “and I had deal with it quicker than most. Obviously, the best in the world are out here. I think the really good college players can come out here and compete, but the difference is these guys are doing it week after week after week and having the consistency. …

“It can be a lot of noise sometimes, and I’m trying to find a way to navigate that. You’re not doing this for a college anymore. You’re doing this for your life and your job. In college, you kind of get everything done for you and planned out for you and everything is free. Now you’re going from doing that to being a grown up a little bit.”

Dunlap has yet to recapture his magic from La Quinta, but he hasn’t played terribly. Entering this week, he’d made the cut in four of his previous five tournaments. He tied for 11th in Houston earlier this year, and just last week, tied for 21st in a high-quality field at the Wells Fargo Championship.

In Thursday’s round, he said, he “just didn’t get anything going.” He bemoaned two “dumb bogeys.” There was also a double bogey on No. 14, though he finished with a birdie on No. 18, perhaps getting a little momentum for Day 2.

“Thought I drove it really nice all day and hit some poor irons and didn’t putt well at all,” Dunlap said. “So, all in all, I don’t think I played that bad. I think I can go out there tomorrow and drive it again like that and try to put up a good one.”

Reach sports columnist Gentry Estes at gestes@gannett.com and on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter) @Gentry_Estes.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Promising PGA rookie Nick Dunlap of Alabama is learning quickly

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