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Nick Dunlap becomes 1st amateur winner on PGA Tour since 1991 with victory at The American Express

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Dunlap doesn’t possess a false confidence, and he doesn’t project a supernatural calm. The University of Alabama sophomore fully understood just how crazy it was to be fending off a field of professionals Sunday while he tried to become the PGA Tour’s first amateur winner in 33 years.

“Most nervous I’ve ever been, by far,” Dunlap said. “Just tried to breathe, but also look up and enjoy it a little bit.”

The 20-year-old simply played through it all — through his mistakes, the rising pressure and the overall improbability of his week at The American Express.

Dunlap swallowed his nerves one last time to make a 6-foot par putt on the final hole, holding on for a one-shot victory over Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

“Everybody’s got doubts,” Dunlap said. “I probably had a thousand different scenarios in my head of how today was going to go, and it went nothing like I expected. I think that was the cool part about it. That’s golf.”

The reigning U.S. Amateur champion is the tour’s first amateur winner since Phil Mickelson at the Tucson Open in 1991. Playing in his fourth tour event, Dunlap became the seventh amateur winner since 1945 — and the third since 1957.

The only amateur in the 156-player field in the tournament long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, Dunlap surged into a three-shot lead with a sizzling 12-under 60 in the third round. He lost that lead Sunday on the front nine on the Stadium Course at PGA West, but he played with the resilience of a seasoned veteran down the stretch, capped by his recovery from two errant shots on the 18th for the winning par.

“Nothing like I’ve ever felt,” Dunlap said. “It was so cool to be out here and experience this as an amateur. Whether I had made that or missed that (last putt), if you would have told me (on) Wednesday night I would have a putt to win this golf tournament, I wouldn’t believe you.”

After a day of back-and-forth competition, Dunlap and Sam Burns were tied for the lead when Burns put his tee shot in the water and double-bogeyed the 17th. Dunlap thought he had a two-stroke lead when he stepped up to the 18th, because and his caddie didn’t check the leaderboard or see Bezuidenhout’s birdie moments earlier.

Dunlap’s tee shot then landed high in the rough, and his second shot might have hit a spectator before it took a fortunate roll from the rough into a grassy drainage area off the green.

Dunlap got inside 6 feet with his third shot, and he celebrated the par putt for the title with hugs from his parents, his girlfriend and his college coach, Jay Seawell, who all flew cross-country over the weekend to watch in person.