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Nick Dunlap returns to Pinehurst, still feels like he left Alabama teammates ‘hanging’

PINEHURST, N.C. – There are two defending champions here at Pinehurst No. 2 this week: Wyndham Clark, last summer’s U.S. Open champion at LACC, and Nick Dunlap, who captured the North and South Amateur last July.

Dunlap certainly has history around this golf-crazed town. He also won the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur at nearby Country Club of North Carolina.

“For whatever reason, I play good in North Carolina,” said Dunlap, who notes that he doesn’t have to use navigation in Pinehurst, knowing his way around like its home, and plans to frequent his favorite food spot, CharBar, again this week. The only difference this week is No. 2 is playing firmer, fasters and about 500 yards longer than it did last summer.

“Good vibes,” Dunlap added. “… Just gives you a little extra comfort when you’re on the golf course.”

It’s been an uncomfortable first few months as a pro for the 20-year-old Dunlap, who won The American Express as an amateur in late January, a victory that prompted the former Alabama sophomore to forfeit his remaining eligibility and turn professional just a few days later. He finished last in his pro debut at Pebble Beach, and in 12 starts now playing for money, Dunlap has just two top-20s.

One of those finishes, however, was a T-12 at last week’s Memorial Tournament, a limited-field signature event.

“I’m slowly learning how to play some of these very difficult golf courses that demand a lot,” Dunlap said. “It takes a lot of me. There’s a lot of patience that goes with that that I’ve had to learn on the road a little bit. … Honestly, the most frustrating thing is that I’ve had to realize that I can’t attack pins with sand wedges sometimes.”

That, and the fact that Dunlap couldn’t be there for his former Crimson Tide teammates, who bowed out in NCAA regionals as a No. 2 seed. Prior to Dunlap’s sudden spring leap to the pros, he was the top-ranked player in the country and Alabama on a short list of NCAA title contenders.

The Tide rallied as high as sixth in the nation post-Dunlap, winning once, but ultimately they never made it to the NCAA Championship at La Costa, where their bitter rival, Auburn, lifted the NCAA team title.

While Dunlap had the full support of his teammates, he is honest about how he still feels, now months after his difficult choice to turn pro.

“I don’t think that decision’s gotten any easier, to be honest with you,” Dunlap said. “It was tough for me to see them miss, especially in the way it happened. [Caddie] Hunter [Hamrick, a former Alabama assistant] and I were watching [the live scoring of regionals] pretty much – I think it was Wednesday of Valhalla. … We were watching that all day. It sucked because I think everybody had kind of counted them out for the year almost, gave Auburn a run for their money at SEC. They played great at regionals. I think they played really nice honestly since AmEx.

“But, no, I still in a way feel bad. I feel like I left them hanging. Would have loved to be with them at regionals and NCAAs the week after.”