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Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap joining PGA Tour after breakthrough win

Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap is turning pro after becoming the first amateur in 33 years to win on the PGA Tour.

Dunlap announced his decision Thursday in a campus news conference, four days after the reigning U.S. Amateur champion won The American Express. He secured the one-shot victory with a 6-foot par putt on the final hole.

“I truly do have the best team and I’m very grateful to say that,” Dunlap said. “I mean that wholeheartedly. But at this time I do want to announce that I am turning professional. I’m accepting my PGA Tour membership.”

The 20-year-old will make his professional debut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Feb. 1. With family, Alabama golf coach Jay Seawell and teammates looking on, Dunlap wiped away tears while thanking those close to him.

"Gosh dang, I didn't think I was gonna cry," he said.

Dunlap had withdrawn from the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines to consider his options. South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, runner-up at The American Express, collected the $1.5 million check, not Dunlap.

Thanks to his victory, Dunlap has a PGA Tour card through 2026. He will be eligible for seven $20 million signature events this year, along with three majors (and still a chance to play the British Open).

“It's a week today that the first round started and a week ago if you had told me that I had the opportunity to live out my dream as a 20-year-old — it's pretty surreal,” said Dunlap, who plans to continue living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“But it's also scary. There's a lot of changes.”

Dunlap had earned a spot in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open after winning the U.S. Amateur last summer. Despite turning pro, he can still play in the U.S. Open since the USGA no longer requires the U.S. Amateur champion to stay amateur.

His victory Sunday gets him in the Masters and PGA Championship. He will have to earn a spot in the British Open.

Dunlap said he informed his Alabama teammates of his decision on Tuesday.

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

Dunlap is only the third amateur in the last 68 years to win on the PGA Tour, joining Phil Mickelson ( 1991 Tucson Open) and Scott Verplank ( 1985 Western Open).

Dunlap is the first person to win both the U.S. junior amateur and amateur titles since Tiger Woods.

It's heady stuff being mentioned in the company of even a young Mickelson and Woods.

“If you grew up playing golf, you always wanted to be like Tiger or be like Phil,” Dunlap said. "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." ___

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf