Everything and nothing has changed for Nick Dunlap.

He still lives in his college apartment in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and has no plans to move, at least until his lease expires this summer. He practices at the University of Alabama with the rest of the men’s program, goes to dinner with the team, and plays in their daily ping pong matches. When he’s home, it’s like he never left school.

Of course, Dunlap, 20, is no longer in college. He’s on the PGA TOUR, courtesy of his historic victory as an amateur at The American Express in January, the first time in more than three decades that an amateur won a TOUR event. That changed Dunlap’s schedule, expectations and the size of his bank account. He’s trying not to let it change his life.

Dunlap attempted to reconcile those contrasts as he sat on the lawn behind the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse Wednesday, answering media questions as a first-timer at THE PLAYERS Championship. Wearing Adidas gear from head to toe with a silver watch gifted from Rolex on his wrist, Dunlap spent an hour discussing the frenetic nature of the last two months, his unexpected rise and the growing list of asks thrust on him. In the middle of it, Commissioner Jay Monahan came over and gave Dunlap his official PGA TOUR card. When his media session was over, Dunlap was corralled by his agent and immediately introduced to an executive at one of the PGA TOUR’s prominent sponsors.

It’s Dunlap’s overwhelming, pressurized and incredible new reality. He gave up his amateur status to turn pro and reap the benefits of his win – exemptions into Signature Events, including THE PLAYERS, guaranteed money and job security for two seasons on TOUR. It came with a host of responsibilities and implications, too. He’s a man caught in the middle, balancing the youthful and innocent desire to continue being a college kid while knowing it’s time to grow up and make the most of his childhood dream of playing on TOUR. He’s still figuring out how to meld the two.

“It’s starting to get a little bit more comfortable. I would say it’s not as– my eyes aren’t as wide as they were when first getting out here,” said Dunlap, who later added, “there’s new struggles and new problems that I didn’t know I’d face.”

It’s a reality all golfers experience – the difficult transition from amateur to pro – when you turn from a golfer into a business and the sport turns from hobby to job. Dunlap flipped the switch quicker than most. At the earliest, Dunlap thought he would join the PGA TOUR this summer if he accumulated enough points in the PGA TOUR University Accelerated Program. He would have returned for his junior season at Alabama if he didn’t. He had ambitions to win a national championship, defend his U.S. Amateur title at Hazeltine, and soak in another year of college with his friends while slowly preparing for professional life. That plan altered drastically with his win at PGA West. He called the decision to leave college and turn pro “clear but difficult.” He knew he had to go, but that didn’t make it easier to say goodbye. That’s why he has tried not to.

Dunlap gave no indication he plans to leave the Tuscaloosa area. He is looking forward to using the University of Alabama’s new golf facility, which is expected to open later this year. He spent the early part of this PLAYERS week watching his old teammates play The Hayt, a collegiate tournament held down the street at Sawgrass Country Club. His teammates returned the favor and followed Dunlap’s Tuesday practice round. When he talked about the Alabama program he referred to it as “us.”

“It’s honestly really nice for me to go back and hang out with them and it’s a comfortable place for me,” Dunlap said. “Like I said, they’re still my teammates, whether I’m not playing with them or not, that’s still how I view them and they’re brothers.”

Perhaps that helps him mentally as he transitions from a team atmosphere in high school and college to one predicated solely on the individual on the PGA TOUR. There are no teammates to pick him up competitively when he struggles, but they are there emotionally.

“Just to see his dreams come true is fun for me because I love him to death and I want him to play well every week,” said Dunlap’s former teammate and current roommate Jonathan Griz. “I’ve watched more golf than I ever have before, refreshing the leaderboard just because I care about him.”

The results on course haven’t been what Dunlap hoped for (zero top-40 finishes in four starts), a consequence of his splintered attention. He’s made it a focus to spend as much time on golf as possible and let his business team handle the rest, but the off-course distractions inevitably seep in.

What are some of those? Taxes, for one. He’s still not sure how he’s handling that. He’s house shopping and will likely close on a purchase before he’s legally allowed to drink alcohol. Then there are the sponsor obligations, the meet-and-greets, pro-ams and media requests. He has relied on other pros for other guidance. Justin Thomas, a fellow Alabama alum, gave Dunlap advice on dealing with contracts and helped with the minutia, like how much to pay a caddie. Will Zalatoris has helped Dunlap with course strategy. Dunlap played practice rounds with Ludvig Åberg at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, who shared how he made the transition and told him to “embrace it.”

“I tried to make sure that I enjoyed it,” said Åberg, who successfully made the jump from college to the PGA TOUR last summer. “I tried to make sure that I didn’t shy away from it because I think as soon as you start fighting it, I think that’s when you start to get into trouble.”

Dunlap isn’t fighting it. He’s embracing it. He’s gone to dinner with Rory McIlroy and Thomas, played pro ams with Tua Tagovailoa and maintained a positive attitude despite so-so results to start his career.

“I still have to pinch myself a little bit that I’m out here,” he said.

His upcoming schedule includes stops at Augusta National, Valhalla and Pinehurst. He’s already played Riviera, Pebble Beach and Bay Hill. He will check off another bucket list course at TPC Sawgrass this week.

That makes all the distractions worth it.

“It’s unbelievable. It really is,” Dunlap said. “I’m really grateful.”

Source: pgatour.com