Golf and surprises are often synonymous. Incredible shots and inconceivable mistakes are a constant in this complex sport, which results in so many satisfactions and misfortunes among its practitioners. These were the sensations experienced in January by 20-year-old Nick Dunlap when – in just one week – he went through a carousel of emotions. 

The first was enormous joy at having achieved the feat of becoming a U.S. PGA Tour winner while still an amateur, especially considering that he had not made the cut in his only three previous participations in a professional event. This surprising result came at the American Express Championship in La Quinta, California, where Dunlap achieved the first victory by an amateur on the tour in 33 years (the previous one was by Phil Mickelson).

He had entered the tournament thanks to a sponsor's invitation for his status as U.S. Amateur champion last year and for being third in the world amateur ranking. At 20 years and 29 days, Dunlap became the second youngest champion on the PGA Tour in the last 90 years, second only to Jordan Spieth, who won the 2013 John Deere Classic at 19 years and 11 months.

Just before the start of the American Express, Dunlap was ranked 4,129th in the official world golf ranking and, following his PGA Tour victory, he moved up to 68th, the biggest jump in the history of this global ranking, which is led by fellow countryman Scottie Scheffler.

"Honestly, I felt the script today was already written," Dunlap said after his round. "It's so cool to be experiencing this as an amateur. If you had told me come Wednesday night that I had a putt to win this tournament, I wouldn't have believed you. 

I wasn't eligible for the (winner’s) cheque… but it was a privilege to be here, to play in this event as an amateur, and I think I was the only amateur playing. For them to want me in the field that bad was really special to me, and to play like I did, maybe represent amateur golf a little bit while I was doing it and to also show people that amateur golf is really, really good… But I admit I'm still in shock. I've never seen so many cameras and so many journalists on the green.”

The cheque he referred to was the bitter side of his victory because, as an amateur, he was not entitled to pocket any prizemoney. Instead, runner-up Christiaan Bezuidenhou took home the $1,512,000 reserved for the champion – out of a total tournament prize fund of $8.4 million – and also accumulated 300 FedExCup points. 

However, not being paid for playing so well would never happen again because just a few days later, at the end of January, Dunlap took the step into the professional ranks and joined the PGA Tour.

Meeting with the press at the University of Alabama, with his emotions running high and surrounded by his parents, girlfriend, coach and a legion of reporters, photographers and television cameras, Dunlap officially announced his change in status – from amateur to professional – and outlined the tournaments he planned to compete in for the first few months, including the U.S. Masters. "The opportunity to choose your schedule on the PGA Tour is incredible," said the young man from Huntsville, north Alabama.

Up until March, and following his victory in the American Express Championship, Dunlap did not enjoy particularly good results in his first three PGA Tour tournaments as a professional. In the first, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he finished 80th; he missed the cut in the second, The Genesis Invitational; and in the third, the Cognizant Classic, he was 53rd.

In those three tournaments he only recorded one round under 70 (67), which was a significant contrast to the extraordinary results that led him to write his name in the history books of the PGA Tour by winning the American Express Championship as an amateur.

Surely, however, it is just a matter of time before he fully adapts to “serious” golf away from university.