Nick Dunlap comes full circle at first U.S. Open as pro

Qualifying for the 2023 U.S. Open kicked off what would prove to be an extraordinary year for 20-year-old Nick Dunlap, who will tee off at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday as a professional for the first time at the event.

Though Dunlap missed the cut at Los Angeles last year, he would go on to win the prestigious Northeast Amateur and North & South amateur in back-to-back weeks, the latter coming at Pinehurst, N.C. Then he became the only player to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur.

Fast forward to January when he became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson in 1991 by capturing The American Express title in La Quinta, Calif. Four days later he made the decision to turn pro.

“Honestly, a lot of the guys out here have been very, very nice to me, always offering up support and help in anything they do,” Dunlap said Wednesday ahead of the U.S. Open. “It was a little bit of an odd situation, but I’m 20, and there’s not a whole lot of my peers out here currently. It can be a little lonely at times. Feel like you’re on an island a little bit.”

In 12 pro events since his win at La Quinta, he has two finishes in the top 12.

Dunlap admitted to feeling like he left his Alabama teammates “hanging” with his decision to turn pro. In his announcement in January, he called it “the easiest hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

“I don’t think that decision’s gotten any easier, to be honest with you,” Dunlap said Wednesday. “I still in a way feel bad. I feel like I left them hanging. Would have loved to be with them at regionals, NCAAs the week after.”

He also weighed in on whether amateurs should be paid at events like the U.S. Open, a topic discussed earlier Wednesday among members of the USGA.

“No, I honestly don’t think” amateurs should get paid, he said. “I think there should be maybe some kind of end-of-the-week [stipend] to help out with some of the expenses maybe. Weeks like this are expensive, especially at Augusta.”

Dunlap missed out on the $1.5 million winner’s payout at The American Express

“It does kind of suck that you can’t make any money, so you’re kind of out of whether it’s 5, 10, 15, 20 grand, whatever it is. Some kind of help at the end of the week would be nice,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap, playing in his third U.S. Open overall, tees off at 1:25 p.m. ET on Thursday in a pairing with Brian Harman and reigning champion Wyndham Clark.