Nick Dunlap named Amateur Athlete of the Year by ASWA

Former Alabama standout became first amateur in 32 years to win PGA Tour event in January
Nick Dunlap tees off on 17 on the Pete Dye Stadium Course during the final round of The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024.
Nick Dunlap tees off on 17 on the Pete Dye Stadium Course during the final round of The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. / Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY

Story by Creg Stephenson, courtesy of the Alabama Sports Writers Association

Nick Dunlap became something of an overnight sensation in the golf world this past winter, but to anyone who follows the sport in the state of Alabama, he is anything but.

The 20-year-old Dunlap claimed The American Express tournament championship in California in January, becoming the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson won the Tucson Open in 1991. That capped a 12-month period in which Dunlap — who played one season at Alabama before turning pro following his AmEx victory — also won the U.S. Amateur Championship last August (becoming the first golfer since Tigers Woods to win both the U.S. Am and the U.S. Junior Amateur, which he did as a 17-year-old in 2021) and represented his country on the victorious Walker Cup team in September.

For those accomplishments and more, Dunlap is the runaway winner of the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s award for Amateur Athlete of the Year. He joins a prestigious list of past winners that includes Cam Newton, Tim Hudson, Philip Rivers, Mark Ingram, Bryce Young and Jameis Winston, and is the first golfer to win the award since Alabama’s Brooke Pancake in 2012.

“If you grew up playing golf, you always wanted to be like Tiger or be like Phil,” Dunlap  upon turning pro in January. “And to be compared to them is why I practice and work out and do everything I do is to be on that level and be (on) that stage.

“To be considered with Tiger and Phil is pretty remarkable. And I know 10- and 11- and 12-year-old me would be pretty happy right now.”

It was at around that age that Dunlap first made his name in the sports world, though not in golf. As a 10-year-old he was a finalist in the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition,  at a Tennessee Titans game in Nashville in 2004.

But it was not long after that Dunlap began to focus primarily on golf. Born in Huntsville, he lived briefly in South Carolina before returning to Alabama prior to his sophomore year of high school and continuing to train with Brian Speakman at Greystone Golf and Country Club in Birmingham.

“He started here when he was six years old and to be honest with you, right off the bat, you would go, ‘wow, look at this kid,’” said Steve Smith, director of golf at Greystone. “He would shoot some amazing scores, but you really didn’t have a barometer at that age. … But he was an outstanding athlete in whatever sport he chose to do, and it didn’t take him long to get really good at golf.”

Dunlap shot a 60 in a junior tournament when he was 12 years old, Smith said, competing against golfers two or three years older. By 13, he was playing in tournaments’ championship flights, usually reserved for 15-to-18 year olds.

In 2018 at age 14, Dunlap won the Alabama Junior Amateur Championship by firing a final-round 66. In 2021 alone (when he was 17), he won the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship, the American Junior Golf Association Polo Junior Golf Classic and the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, becoming the first Alabamian to win the latter tournament.

Ranked the No. 1 junior golfer in the country, he signed with Alabama in the Class of 2022. Despite battling tendonitis in his wrist during his lone season with the Crimson Tide the following spring, he was a first-team All-SEC selection and a second-team All-American as a freshman, winning a pair of tournaments and averaging 69.76 strokes per round, the best mark in school history.

“I’ve known him since he was 10 years old when he came to golf camp,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said in January. “I’ve known his dream, and I’m honored that he gave us the opportunity to coach him.”

At the U.S. Amateur Championship in New Jersey in August, Dunlap was 5-over-par through seven holes during stroke play before rallying to make the cut. In the finals of match play, he beat Ohio State’s Neal Shipley, 4 and 3, to win the championship and earn a spot in the 2024 U.S. Open.

Dunlap returned for his sophomore year at Alabama ranked the No. 1 amateur golfer in the world. But his national profile changed dramatically at La Quinta Country Club in late January, when he shot 64-65-60-70—259 to win the tournament by one stroke over Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

“Nothing like I’ve ever felt,” Dunlap told reporters at the time. “It was so cool to be out here and experience this as an amateur. Whether I had made that or missed that (last putt), if you would have told me (on) Wednesday night I would have a putt to win this golf tournament, I wouldn’t believe you.”

Smith said Dunlap’s out-of-nowhere win — just the seventh ever by an amateur on the PGA Tour and only the third since 1957 — caused a sensation at Greystone.

“We sat here watching it, and it was just unbelievable,” Smith said. “It was one of those things where you’re not really surprised, but man, I am surprised that it was so quick out of the box. When you consider Mickelson was the last one to do it and what he’s gone on to do, it’s amazing.”

As an amateur, Dunlap was not eligible for the more than $1.5 million in prize money awarded to The American Express champion. He made sure that would not happen again four days later when he announced he was giving up the reminder of his college eligibility to join the PGA Tour full-time.

Dunlap received more than half of the first-place votes cast by Alabama Sports Writers Association members for Amateur Athlete of the Year, beating out a list of fellow nominees that also included Alabama basketball player Mark Sears, Jacksonville State national champion bowler Rebecca Hagerman and Auburn golfer Megan Schofill. He is the second male Alabama golfer to win the award, 50 years after Jerry Pate — also U.S. Amateur Champion — did so in 1974.

ASWA Amateur Athlete of the Year

  • Past winners
  • 2022 Trey Cunningham
  • 2021 Bryce Young 
  • 2020 DeVonta Smith
  • 2019 Derrick Brown
  • 2018 Casey Mize
  • 2017 Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • 2016 Jonathan Allen
  • 2015 Derrick Henry
  • 2014 Amari Cooper
  • 2013 Jameis Winston
  • 2012 Brooke Pancake
  • 2011 Trent Richardson
  • 2010 Cam Newton
  • 2009 Mark Ingram II
  • 2008 DeWanna Bonner
  • 2007 Pat White
  • 2006 JaMarcus Russell
  • 2005 DeMeco Ryans
  • 2004 Jason Campbell
  • 2003 Philip Rivers
  • 2002 Andree Pickens
  • 2001 Gabe Gross
  • 2000 Gabe Gross
  • 1999 Chris Samuels
  • 1998 Tee Martin
  • 1997 Tim Hudson
  • 1996 Meredith Willard
  • 1995 Ronald McKinnon
  • 1994 Jay Barker
  • 1993 Niesa Johnson
  • 1992 Dee Foster
  • 1991 Tim VanEgmond
  • 1990 Phillip Doyle
  • 1989 Gary Hollingsworth
  • 1988 Derrick Thomas
  • 1987 Mike Turk
  • 1986 Cornelius Bennett
  • 1985 Bo Jackson
  • 1984 Rowdy Gaines
  • 1983 David Magadan
  • 1982 Randy Campbell
  • 1981 Ed Lett
  • 1980 Rowdy Gaines
  • 1979 Joe Cribbs
  • 1978 Reginald King
  • 1977 Ozzie Newsome
  • 1976 Harvey Glance
  • 1975 Leon Douglas
  • 1974 Jerry Pate

See also: UMobile’s Ezra McKenna wins ASWA Small College Athlete of the Year Award

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Christopher Walsh


Christopher Walsh is the founder and publisher of BamaCentral, which first published in 2018. He's covered the Crimson Tide since 2004, and is the author of 26 books including Decade of Dominance, 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Nick Saban vs. College Football, and Bama Dynasty: The Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Immortality. He's an eight-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and three-time winner of the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest writing honor for story of the year. In 2022, he was named one of the 50 Legends of the ASWA. Previous beats include the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally from Minnesota and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, he currently resides in Tuscaloosa.