Since the spring of 2021, Nick Dunlap, 19, of Huntsville, Ala., has amassed a 29-2 record in match-play competition. That includes a 6-0 mark on the way to the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur title, and five victories this week at Cherry Hills Country Club. On Sunday, Dunlap will seek his 30th and biggest victory in the 36-hole final of the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship.
Dunlap, the No. 9 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), defeated Parker Bell, 19, of Tallahassee, Fla., 3 and 2, on Saturday to earn a berth opposite Neal Shipley, 22, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who earned a come-from-behind, 2-and-1 win over John Marshall Butler, 21, of Louisville, Ky. Shipley’s dramatic victory was sealed by a third shot on the par-5, island-green 17th hole that stopped inches from the hole for a birdie.
“I wasn't mentally defeated, but I knew I was going to have to do something pretty special and continue to hit a lot of good golf shots, and I think I did just that,” said Shipley, who is No. 132 in the WAGR.
Shipley, a graduate student at Ohio State University who played at James Madison University before joining the Ohio State program last year, was 3 down after 10 holes to Butler, a senior at Auburn University. Shipley chipped away with winning birdies on 11 and 12, then tied the match for the first time since the fifth hole when Butler’s pitch shot for a tying par on the par-3 15th hit the flagstick and softly spun out.
Shipley won No. 16 with a two-putt par after an errant tee shot by Butler, setting up the dramatic clinching birdie. Shipley’s 93-yard third shot landed some 30 feet past the hole and spun back toward it, looking for a moment as though it would fall into the hole. The conceded birdie forced Marshall to hole his chip shot from the side of the green to extend the match. He missed just short and below the hole to put an end to his successful week, which included a Round-of-16 victory over Paul Chang that required floodlights on the 18th green and an extra hole the following morning.
Trailing Bell through seven holes, Dunlap hit a 7-iron to within 8 feet to birdie the eighth and tie the match. Dunlap won No. 9 with a par, then sank a downhill 30-footer for another birdie on the par-3 12th.
“It was just nice to see one go in,” said Dunlap, who will play for the USA Team against Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup Match in two weeks at St. Andrews, Scotland. “I got the tee, I felt the momentum switch a little bit. I was able to put some heat on him, put it in the fairway, put it on the green. Try to make him do something.”
Dunlap won his third par-3 hole of the day with a par on No. 15 when Bell missed the green and made bogey. Despite the defeat, Bell, who is a sophomore at the University of Florida, gained enormous confidence from his effort this week after a freshman year for the Gators when he was not among the top five players on the team.
Butler made a crucial up-and-down par on No. 14, sinking a 14-footer after Shipley narrowly missed a birdie try that would have tied it, but that only briefly delayed Shipley’s rally, as he went on to win the next three holes for the semifinal victory.
The 36-hole final will start at 8 a.m. MDT on Sunday, with the second 18 of the final beginning at 1 p.m.
The two players who lost in the semifinals earn exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateur Championships, in 2024 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., and in 2025 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. The two finalists have earned spots in the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. They are also expected to receive invitations into the 2024 Masters Tournament. Tomorrow’s champion will also earn a berth in the 2024 Open Championship at Royal Troon.
For the fifth straight year, all four semifinalists are from the United States. In 2013, for the first and only time, all four semifinalists were international players, with Matt Fitzpatrick, of England, defeating Oliver Goss, of Australia in the final. Since then, of the 40 players to make the semifinals from 2014-2023, only five have been international players, with three of them winning – Gunn Yang in 2014 (Republic of Korea), Curtis Luck in 2016 (Australia), and Viktor Hovland in 2018 (Norway).
Through Saturday’s semifinal, Nick Dunlap has a 29-2 match-play record since the spring of 2021, having gone 6-0 in the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2021 and 4-1 in the same championship in 2022 (semifinalist), as well as 6-0 in the 2021 AJGA Polo Junior Classic and 5-0 in the 2023 North & South Amateur.
Nick Dunlap has eliminated three Southeastern Conference rivals en route to the final match. He topped Gordon Sargent, who is No. 1 in the WAGR (Vanderbilt), in the Round of 64; Jackson Koivun (an incoming freshman at Auburn), in the quarterfinals; and Parker Bell in Saturday’s semifinal (Florida).
Carter Pitcairn, a former high school teammate of Neal Shipley’s, was on the bag for Shipley in Saturday’s semifinal win, after Ohio State assistant coach Jimmy Beck had served as Shipley’s caddie earlier in the week. Beck had to bow out for a family baby shower, and Pitcairn stepped in, having had solid experience in a previous U.S. Amateur. Pitcairn, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin who was already visiting Colorado at Beaver Creek, caddied for 2021 U.S. Amateur runner-up Austin Greaser at Oakmont.
“Handed him two gifts early, but I let it linger and I shouldn’t have. Took me until probably 8 or 9 to get over it. I was pretty determined today, I’m out here for four hours, let's give it all I’ve got for four hours, and if it doesn’t go my way it doesn’t go my way, but I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen.” – Nick Dunlap on his rally starting with a birdie on No. 8
“It got windy. There’s hundreds of people out here, it’s the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, it’s a lot of pressure. I thought if I could just get the [honor], make him do something, make him try to make some birdies, hopefully maybe I’ll roll in a putt, which fortunately I did on 12. Just hung in there the rest of the day.” – Nick Dunlap
“I just kept plugging along, winning some holes. That shot on 17 was so cool, and that scene was just something I’m going to cherish for a long time. After that shot, just raw emotion. I was just so excited. I saw it almost go in and I knew it was tight just because it looked like it touched the shadow on the bottom of the flagstick, and everyone was going crazy, I was going crazy.” – Neal Shipley, on the birdie on No. 17 that sealed his victory
“It was really tough, after JM [Butler] gave it to me, I had to calm down and I was on the side of the green saying, he’s going to make this, we’re going to have to hit 4-iron on 18 tee, we’re going to have to tie that hole. After all that I was trying to focus back in and get locked back in.” – Shipley, on not getting ahead of himself after his birdie was conceded
“I felt in control of the match. I felt in control of my golf swing. I kind of let him back in, and I made some amateur mistakes for sure. Hitting it in the water on 12 and missing the green on 15, hitting it in the hazard on 12 and 15. Hit it on the green on 15, and I have all the momentum. But unfortunately it didn't happen.” – John Marshall Butler, on his semifinal loss
“We had four guys in the Round of 32. I’m going to tell them it just wasn’t my day, but we’ve got bigger things ahead of us at Auburn. I believe we'll have the best team in the country and we'll have a chance to win a national championship. You’re going to see us very soon.” – Butler, on Auburn’s impressive showing
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.