Alabama’s Nick Dunlap punches ticket to U.S. Amateur semifinals

For 19 holes, Nick Dunlap was even-keeled and cool despite baking in the Colorado sun.

It was only after he buried a long birdie putt on 19 — a playoff hole — that he unleashed a fist pump and yell befitting of the moment. It was, by far, his biggest show of emotion on Friday and a rare window into his steely approach.

With that putt, and Jackson Koivun’s subsequent miss, Dunlap punched his ticket to Saturday’s match play semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club. There, he’ll face Parker Bell.

“Roll Tide, Nick!” yelled one of the many spectators congratulating Alabama’s Dunlap, knowing that he’d knocked off Koivun, who happens to be a freshman at Auburn.

Crimson Tide and Tiger hats littered the gallery among the hundreds watching Friday morning. Even Broncos legend John Elway walked a few holes on the back nine watching the two teenagers compete.

Sporting bags from their respective schools, Dunlap said the rivalry crossed his mind but he was more focused on the quality of his opponent.

“Somebody told me yesterday he was the No. 1 junior in the world, and you obviously had to do some pretty impressive things to get there, and I respect the heck out of that,” Dunlap said.

“… But I treat everybody the same,” he said. “Anybody can go out and shoot anywhere from 10-over to 10-under. You never know.”

Dunlap had a chance to advance on the 18th hole, where spectators surrounded the green by the clubhouse. When his putt ran long, it all but sealed a playoff.

“It’s just part of it,” he said. “Same thing with 16. You walk to 17 tee and let 16 bother you, you’re going to be 1-down going into 18. You’ve got to block it out as quick as you can.”

Dunlap, No. 9 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, conceded he wasn’t reading the greens like he wanted before his signature moment.

“I didn’t make much all day,” he said. “I’m normally pretty good inside 10 feet, and I missed two coming down the stretch. That’ll shake you up a little bit.”

But he stepped in and shot with confidence.

After securing his spot in the semifinals, including coming back from two holes down on the front nine, Dunlap floated the idea that he might go get some more work in on his short game.

“You never know, you may come out and make them all tomorrow,” he said. “Golf is a weird game. I think it goes to show the last couple holes we played.”

As Dunlap remained in contention for the Amateur title, he remained locked into his objective of winning the weekend.

“I think you can get overwhelmed by the situation quickly if you allow yourself to,” the precocious 19-year-old said. “At the end of the day, it’s still golf. You still have to stick to your game plan, no matter what that is, whether it’s trying to push it down the fairway with driver, 3-wood or lay back with irons. The golf ball doesn’t know who’s hitting it. That’s kind of been my game plan the entire way.”

Before this week, he said he’d never been to Colorado. When he arrived, the altitude greeted him with a pounding headache for a couple of days due to dehydration.

And his impression now?

“I like hitting (my) driver 380,” he said with a smile.

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