Dunlap wins U.S. Junior Amateur Championship earns U.S. Open exemption

Nick Dunlap is going to hate seeing the calendar flip from July to August. Not after the month the 17-year-old from Huntsville, Ala., just produced. Dunlap capped off a remarkable four weeks on Saturday by claiming the biggest prize in junior golf, the 73rd U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Country Club of North Carolina.

Combining prodigious power with masterful touch on the greens, Dunlap defeated Cohen Trolio, 18, of West Point, Miss., 3 and 2, in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match. Just the second player from his state to reach a U.S. Junior Amateur final, Dunlap becomes the first to put his name on the trophy. The late Bradley Johnson lost the first 36-hole final in Junior history 16 years ago to Kevin Tway at Longmeadow (Mass.) Country Club.

The victory earns Dunlap a spot in next year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateurs.

Dunlap wins U.S. Junior Amateur Championship earns U.S. Open exemption 2

“My heart is still beating 100 times fast,” said Dunlap after enjoying a congratulatory bear hug with his caddie, Jeff Curl, and his parents. “This is unbelievable. In junior golf, this is the big one, and to have my name on it, I can’t even put it into words.”

A rising high school senior, Dunlap began July by winning the only match-play event on the American Junior Golf Association circuit, the Polo Junior Golf Classic at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. Last week he was the runner-up in the Junior PGA Championship at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Ky., and in between those events, he was the medalist in a U.S. Amateur qualifier on July 5 in Decatur, Ala.

And in May, he shot 62 to Monday-qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour’s Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, before missing the cut with rounds of 75-74.

Dunlap wins U.S. Junior Amateur Championship earns U.S. Open exemption 3

“It’s my first major,” said Dunlap of the 2022 U.S. Open. “I’m sure I’m probably going to be this nervous or even more. It’s just going to be a learning experience for me, and I’m going to go into it with as much confidence as I can and play my game.”

For Trolio, an incoming freshman at Louisiana State University, there was the disappointment of falling one match short. But it was another magical week in the Sandhills after he reached the semifinals of the 2019 U.S. Amateur at nearby Pinehurst No. 2 as a 16-year-old.

Dunlap seized control of a tight match with three consecutive wins from the 27th hole to take a 2-up lead. The momentum actually began on the par-3 26th hole, when he converted a 12-foot par putt to tie the hole and avoid going 2 down. He would tie the match on the ensuing par 5 by executing a pitch from rough left of the green and converting the 12-foot birdie putt. Dunlap grabbed the lead for good thanks to two consecutive three-putt bogeys by Trolio.

Trolio, whose short-game wizardry was on display all week, saw his deft touch briefly wane on the inward nine of the afternoon round. The son of Old Waverly Golf Club’s lead teaching professional lipped out a 4-foot birdie putt that would have won the par-5 30th hole and on the par-3 31st, Trolio made a poor pitch shot from greenside rough and failed to convert a 9-foot par putt to go 3 down.

“He’s a good player,” said Trolio. “Him making putts isn’t weird. That’s match play. That’s how it goes, momentum swings and such.”

A wayward Dunlap tee shot on the 33rd hole allowed Trolio to get one hole back, but his tee shot on the 248-yard, par-3 34th missed right, leaving him a challenging recovery shot. Dunlap found the left-greenside bunker with his tee shot but had the easier of the two second shots. Trolio’s flop shot left him 12 feet for par, while Dunlap blasted to a foot for a conceded par.

Dunlap wins U.S. Junior Amateur Championship earns U.S. Open exemption 4

When Trolio missed his par putt, Dunlap joined the likes of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Johnny Miller as a U.S. Junior Amateur champion.

Dunlap took a slim 1-up lead into the lunch break on the strength of birdies on Nos. 10, 13 and 17 of 12, 17 and 15 feet, respectively. He lost the par-3 16th to Trolio after hitting his tee shot into the penalty area – his 5-iron slipped out of his hand – and Trolio closed the morning round with a 6-foot birdie on the par-5 18th.

“I’ve won tournaments in the past, but nothing like this,” said Dunlap. “To win this year in Pinehurst on this golf course, I’ll remember it forever.”

Photos by Sandhills Sentinel Photographer John Patota.



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