Nick Dunlap joined exclusive company on Sunday at historic Cherry Hills Country Club, as he replicated a feat only accomplished by Tiger Woods. Dunlap, the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, pulled away from Neal Shipley on the second 18 of the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship final for a 4-and-3 victory to become just the second player to win both the Junior Amateur and the Amateur. Woods captured each championship three times in a span of six consecutive years (1991-1996).
“Well, I think it’s only a third of what Tiger’s actually done,” said Dunlap, 19, a sophomore at the University of Alabama who is No. 9 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®). “But just to be in the same conversation as Tiger is a dream come true and something that I’ve worked my entire life for. It’s the hours and hours that nobody sees to try to get to this point and even have a chance to win this trophy. It’s unbelievable; can’t put it into words.”
Shipley made an impressive birdie on the demanding par-4 18th hole to tie the match ahead of the lunch break, and after both birdied the par-4 first to open the afternoon, Dunlap assumed control of the match by winning the third and fourth holes with birdies, and the par-4 seventh with a par to take a 3-up advantage. Dunlap completed a scintillating afternoon front nine of 5-under 30 by converting a 30-foot birdie putt on the ninth green that thwarted Shipley’s bid to trim his advantage, after Shipley had knocked his approach within 5 feet for a likely birdie of his own.
“It was the putt on 9 for me, to be honest with you,” said Dunlap, when asked about a key point. “I think it halted his run. He was going to make that putt, and I think that turned things a little bit.”
Dunlap then took advantage of the type of break you need to win a title, when he hooked his tee shot on the par-4 10th hole but got a drop away from an obstruction and hit his approach to within 17 feet for a birdie that gave him a 4-up edge.
“I got a really good break on 10 – I honestly thought that was out of bounds,” said Dunlap. “It turned out [that I got] relief and I was able to get a swing at it and give myself a look at it, and fortunately I made it.”
Even though Shipley had rallied from 3 down after 10 holes in his semifinal victory over John Marshall Butler, he now found himself 4 down to Dunlap with eight holes to play. That birdie putt put Dunlap at 11 under par through the match’s first 28 holes, with 12 birdies and a lone bogey on the par-3 15th hole of the morning round.
“You shoot 5 under [in the morning round] and you would think you’d be at least 1 or 2 up,” said Shipley, a graduate student at Ohio State University who played at James Madison University before joining the Ohio State program last year. “Nick played great, and he just made a lot of putts on me this afternoon. That’s what it takes to win these things. He has what it takes, obviously, and I just didn't really play my best. I got outdueled today.”
After completing his victory, Dunlap recalled Monday’s opening round of stroke play, when he stood 5 over par through seven holes at co-host Colorado Golf Club, with a double bogey and a triple bogey. He birdied six of his next 10 holes to turn things around and ended up completing 36 holes in 1 under par, one stroke inside the cut line of even par. Dunlap had missed the cut for match play in his three previous U.S. Amateurs, shooting a 79 at Ridgewood in 2022 to dash his hopes after losing out in a 12-for-1 playoff in 2021 at Oakmont and also missing out at Pinehurst in 2019.
“I learned that I could do it; I always thought I could, but when you’re 5 over through seven and your mind is spinning and you can't see straight, you’re looking at the negative – I think I was in last place at one point,” said Dunlap. “For me to be able to snap out of that, slow things down, back off, whatever it took for me to slow down and get back into my process, I think I just learned that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it.”
Nick Dunlap receives custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for one year, as well as a 10-year exemption into the U.S. Amateur, a gold medal and entry in the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, the 2024 Open Championship at Royal Troon and a likely invitation to the 2024 Masters Tournament. Runner-up Neal Shipley receives a silver medal, a three-year U.S. Amateur exemption, and he is also exempt into the 2024 U.S. Open and will likely receive an invitation to the 2024 Masters.
Nick Dunlap has a 30-2 match-play record since the spring of 2021, having gone 6-0 this week as well as in his U.S. Junior Amateur victory in 2021. Dunlap went 4-1 in reaching the semifinals of the 2022 U.S. Junior Amateur, as well as 6-0 in the 2021 AJGA Polo Junior Classic and 5-0 in the 2023 North & South Amateur.
Dunlap was supported during the final match by Alabama head golf coach Jay Seawell and four Crimson Tide players – Jonathan Griz, Canon Claycomb, JP Cave and Thomas Ponder – all of whom took an early morning flight from Atlanta to follow their teammate. Ohio State head coach Jay Moseley and teammate Maxwell Moldovan were on hand in support of Shipley, as well as Ohio State assistant coach Jimmy Beck, who caddied for Shipley all week except the semifinal round.
The respective seedings of the finalists this year (Dunlap at No. 41, Shipley No. 47) is the lowest combined total since the last U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills in 2012, when Steven Fox (No. 63) defeated Michael Weaver (No. 60) in 37 holes. Fox is the lowest seed to win the championship since the current format was adopted in 1979. The lowest seed to win before Fox was David Gossett, who was No. 57 in 1999 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Dunlap played 116 holes in capturing the championship. The record for fewest holes needed by a champion since the current match-play format was introduced in 1979 is 103, by both David Gossett, in 1999 at Pebble Beach, and Bryson DeChambeau, in 2015 at Olympia Fields.
Viktor Hovland, of Norway, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion, won the BMW Championship on Sunday for his fifth PGA Tour win. He shot a final-round, 9-under 61 that broke the course record at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, the site of the 2015 U.S. Amateur.
The host sites of the next three U.S. Amateurs are: Hazeltine National Golf Club, in Chaska, Minn., in 2024; The Olympic Club, in San Francisco, Calif., in 2025; and Merion Golf Club, in Ardmore, Pa., in 2026.
On Saturday, Cherry Hills Country Club, with the support of the USGA, announced a collective $1.5 million donation to three golf initiatives in Colorado: the Arnold Palmer Scholarship Foundation, the Evans Scholar Foundation and the First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains chapter, which operates in 10 counties across the state. “This exceptional club continues to raise the bar as a championship host site,” said Fred Perpall, USGA president, of the year-long fund-raising effort by Cherry Hills. “This support falls directly in line with the USGA’s mission to grow golf and make the game more inclusive.” The Evans and Palmer scholarship programs provide college scholarships through summer work programs at Cherry Hills and other participating clubs. The club also hosted a weeklong Junior Experience that attracted more than 2,000 youngsters.
“He just said, soak it all in, man. This is why I practice. This is why I get up early, just for moments like this. The first tee when they announce your name to the last green whether you win or lose, it’s special just to be a part of the United States Amateur and what it stands for. It's awesome.” – Nick Dunlap, on his conversation with caddie Jeff Curl when he was 4 up with four holes to play
“He’s the reason I got into it, and just to have my name even halfway associated with Tiger, who's the greatest to ever play and is the reason I’m playing golf, and it means everything to me.” – Dunlap on becoming the second player to win both the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur
“I definitely felt like I could win. I hung in there all day, and a few bad shots, a few bad putts and Nick was right there to take those opportunities. He was really tidy inside of 6-to-10 feet and made a few longer putts, too, so all hats off to him.” – Neal Shipley on Dunlap’s pinpoint putting
“It’s pretty crazy. It’s the stuff of dreams to do what I’m doing this week. Just glad I took time to soak it in every day and really enjoy it. This is likely my last Amateur, and just a really cool week and something I didn't initially think I’d have the opportunity to do.” – Shipley
“He absolutely did hang with me. That was a hell of a match. He played amazing. I’m honored just to be in the final match with him.” – Dunlap, on Neal Shipley’s performance
“I didn’t quite get where I wanted to be in golf, but to help Nick and others, there’s nothing better. I feel like I’m a pretty good observer, and I’ve been around some great players in my life. I saw some of the mistakes they made, some of the mistakes I made. I truly believed he was the best player coming into this week, and if we could keep the distractions away, he would shine.” – Jeff Curl, caddie and mentor to Nick Dunlap for the past several years
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.