At 20, Dunlap hopes to benefit from secret of the sands at US Open

football12 June 2024 20:40| © AFP
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Nick Dunlap @ Getty images

Nick Dunlap has had amazing success at Pinehurst already, but asking the 20-year-old American to conjure a US Open triumph this week is still a bit much.

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Of course, that was true in January as well when the 2023 US Amateur champion delivered a life-changing PGA Tour victory.

Dunlap became the first amateur in 33 years to capture a PGA Tour event when he won in the California desert at the American Express event, playing on a sponsor's exemption.

The University of Alabama student turned professional days later and has started living his pro golf dream over the past few months.

Dunlap has already proven a master at the sandhills layout with the domed greens, native sand and wiregrass where the world's best gather this week.

Dunlap won the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst last July and takes a few lessons from that victory.

"Tack on about 500 yards, way firmer, way faster," Dunlap said.

"For the most part it's the same. You miss the fairway, it's hit or miss whether you have a lie and a chance to advance it. Just very challenging."

Dunlap has uncovered some of the sandhills secrets.

"It's still the same principles of this golf course," he said. "You can't short side yourself. You have to leave it below the hole. Sometimes miss the greens 25 feet above it. A lot of putting.

"Around the greens, left it a little bit longer than they did last year, making putting a little bit more challenging. You might see a lot of 6-irons, 5-irons, hybrids, woods, instead of putting because you have to hit it pretty hard.

"Once you get on the greens, it's extremely fast. Tough to judge that."

In 2021, Dunlap won the US Junior Amateur at nearby Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst over a similar-style layout.

"It was a US Junior and a US Open like this, it's the toughest thing in all of golf," he said. "I think that's going to be shown by some of the scores this week."

Dunlap tees off in Thursday's first round at 1:25 p.m. (1725 GMT) with defending champion Wyndham Clark and 2023 British Open winner Brian Harman.

One group ahead of them are the world's top-ranked players – two-time Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, last month's PGA Championship winner Xander Schauffele and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.


Dunlap makes his fifth major start, having missed the cut at the past two US Opens and this year's Masters and PGA.

"I'm starting to understand what I need to do week to week to prepare myself and what I need to do this week to keep my energy high, make sure I don't wear myself out," he said.

Not since Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Tucson Open had an amateur won a PGA Tour title. The win made Dunlap the second-youngest tour event winner in 90 years.

"I'm slowly learning how to play some of these very difficult golf courses that demand a lot," Dunlap said. "There's a lot of patience that goes with that.

"I thought my good was good enough but these guys are so good consistently week in and week out. Three, four months into it, kind of starting to get a grasp on it."

Dunlap hasn't had another top-10 result but has made 8-of-16 cuts since his victory and was 12th in last week's Memorial.

"A lot of the guys have been very nice to me, always offering up support and help," Dunlap said.

"It can be a little lonely at times. Feel like you're on an island a little bit. A lot of the guys have been... reaching out, making sure that I don't feel that way."