Why a 20-year-old golfer can't collect $1.5-million prize after PGA Tour win in SoCal

Nick Dunlap reacts after making his putt on the 18th hole of the Pete Dye Stadium Course during the final round to win the American Express golf tournament, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in La Quinta, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
Nick Dunlap celebrates after making a putt on the 18th hole to win the American Express tournament on Sunday in La Quinta. The 20-year-old is the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since 1991. (Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

Nick Dunlap is the first winner of the American Express event on the PGA Tour who likely leaves home without an American Express card.

The 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Alabama is an amateur golfer, so he couldn't accept the $1.5-million prize earmarked for the winner of the tournament once known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic that ended Sunday in La Quinta.

The win was historic. Dunlap, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, is the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open in 1991. He also is the second-youngest player to win a Tour event in the last 90 years (Dunlap is 20 years, 29 days old; Jordan Spieth won the 2013 John Deere Classic at 19 years, 352 days).

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But the big check goes to runner-up Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who finished one shot behind Dunlap's 29-under-par 259. Dunlap also misses out on 500 FedExCup points, which would put him in the running for a healthy chunk of the $70-million bonus pool distributed at the end of the year.

After the victory, Dunlap said he isn't sure whether to join the Tour now or return to Tuscaloosa. He clearly is a star in the making, the only golfer besides Tiger Woods to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur.

"I have to take a second to let what just happened sink in a little bit," he said after celebrating with his parents and girlfriend. "That’s a decision that’s not just about me. It affects a lot of people, and obviously I’m going to try to enjoy this."

Even if Dunlap stays in school, the victory will give him an exemption into the PGA Championship. He'd already earned three-year exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open and the Open Championship as the winner of the U.S. Amateur.

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Turning pro now normally would cause an amateur to lose exemptions into those majors, but because he now has a PGA Tour victory on his resume he'd be awarded exemptions that way.

All of which gives Dunlap much to consider when he decides whether to bother doing the homework he brought with him to the West Coast — he'll stay in California for another week to play at Torrey Pines on a sponsor exemption.

"Starting the week, if you would have said, 'Hey, in five days you're going to have a PGA Tour card, or an opportunity for two years,' I would have looked at you sideways," he said. "But [the decision to turn pro] is something that it doesn't just affect me. It affects a lot of people — my coach back there and my teammates — and it's a conversation I need to have with a lot of people."

Regardless of whether he rolls with the Tide or the Tour, Dunlap appears to be golf's next big thing and ought to be good for American Express Platinum status soon enough.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.