Nick Dunlap, very much in Rocket Mortgage contention, admits PGA Tour life is ‘a little lonely’

Nick Dunlap is now in his 15th event as a professional golfer since shocking the world by winning The American Express in La Quinta as an amateur last January. And while he’s more comfortable now with the professional life, Dunlap admits the pro game can be frustrating.

“Honestly, the most frustrating thing is that I’ve had to realize that I can’t attack pins with sand wedges sometimes,” Dunlap said. “I think (recent tournaments were) pretty eye-opening for me in realizing that sometimes you’re not going to hit the green, even if you are on the fairway.

“It’s taken me a little while to realize how to play some of these golf courses,” Dunlap added. “Even par is a great score. Most of the time on the weekends it gets even harder.”

Dunlap, still just 20, has faced plenty of questions since deciding to turn pro after winning The American Express in La Quinta, making him the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour in 33 years. Should he have stayed at the University of Alabama? Was his game ready for the PGA Tour, even though he had just beaten a field that included world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and PGA Championship winner Xander Schauffele?

The questions have grown louder as Dunlap’s year has continued. While he’s surpassed $1 million in earnings in his 14 starts — he won no money at The American Express — he has missed five cuts and has been in the top 15 in an event just twice. He missed the cut in all three major championships he’s played this year, and he was 66th in the most recent event he played, the Travelers Championship. He was a strong 12th the week before the U.S. Open at The Memorial.

This week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, however, Dunlap is in contention at the midway point, building off an opening-round 67.

For Dunlap, it is all part of a learning process.

“I always kind of thought coming out here that I had a lot to learn,” Dunlap said. “I thought that my game was good enough. But these guys are so good consistently week in and week out. I knew I needed to do a couple things to be able to maintain my game, compete week in and week out. I’m three, four months into it. Kind of starting to get a grasp on it.”

One reason for Dunlap to turn pro was that his The American Express win makes him exemption for PGA Tour events through 2026, so he doesn’t have to worry about piecing together a schedule like a regular rookie. In addition, Dunlap was exempt in 2024 for all eight of the PGA Tour’s signature events, most of which do not have a cut and therefore provide a guaranteed paycheck for a player.

Lots of learning

2024 U.S. Open
2024 U.S. Open

Nick Dunlap reacts after putting on the first green during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

But the change has been difficult, Dunlap said, with thoughts of his University of Alabama teammates during college golf season.

Despite being comfortable with the decision to turn pro after The American Express win, a one-shot victory over Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dunlap said he still kept an eye on his Alabama teammates and their trip through the NCAA championships, a trip that ended well short of an NCAA title.

“I still in a way feel bad. I feel like I left them hanging,” Dunlap said. “I would have loved to be with them at regionals, NCAAs the week after.”

What Dunlap has found, though, is new supporters on the PGA Tour.

“Honestly, a lot of the guys out here have been very, very nice to me, always offering up support and help in anything they do,” Dunlap said. “It was a little bit of an odd situation, but I’m 20, and there’s not a whole lot of my peers out here currently.

“It can be a little lonely at times. Feel like you’re on an island a little bit,” he added. “A lot of the guys have been very gracious and reaching out, making sure that I don’t feel that way.”

Dunlap also recently had plenty of television time, not for his current play but for The American Express win. American Express is a major partner of the United States Golf Association and used some of its commercial time during the recent U.S. Open to replay highlights of Dunlap’s win in La Quinta.

For now, Dunlap is 93rd on the FedEx Cup playoffs points list, well short of the 70th-place finish he’ll need at the end of the regular season to make the FedEx St. Jude Classic, the first of the three playoff tournaments. That means Dunlap has just five events left on the regular schedule to reach the playoffs, starting with this week’s Rocket Mortgage.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek