Nick Dunlap celebrates after winning his Round of 64 match. Chris Keane
In many respects, it was unfortunate for the players, fans and championship that Gordon Sargent and Nick Dunlap ended up facing off on Wednesday in the first round of match play in the 123rd US Amateur. Two of the best amateurs in world — Gordon Ranked at No. 1 and Dunlap at No. 9 — ended up meeting so soon, when they were built for what would be a fantastic final, because their seedings put them there.
Sargent, the 2022 NCAA individual champion from Vanderbilt, shot two-under in stroke play to tie for 17th and get the No. 24 seed. Dunlap, a rising sophomore at Alabama and the reigning North & South champion, tied for 38th at one-under and was seeded 41st.
The seedings often are meaningless, but this time the two Alabama natives didn’t get much of a break, and in the end, it was the World No. 1 who suffered the upset at Cherry Hills Country Club outside of Denver. Sargent won the first hole and held a 1-up lead through nine, but Dunlap captured the 10th hole to tie it, took the lead with a birdie at the 11th and won the 14th en route to a 2&1 victory.
“I’m spent, man,” Dunlap, 19, said afterward. “I think this was a match that a lot of people wanted to see. Obviously he’s the No. 1 player in the world for a reason. He’s a hell of a player. Wasn’t expecting any gifts from him. Just kind of throwing punches all day long and see who could withstand them at the end.”
A good-sized crowd gathered to watch the two compete, and the players did feel like the atmosphere was like that of a final.
Moving on ⏩
— USGA (@USGA) August 17, 2023
“It’s everything that you would kind of imagine. A lot of people on the first tee, entire pond was surrounded on 17. It’s just cool,” said Dunlap, who won the 2021 US Junior. “This is why I practise, to go head-to-head with somebody like Gordon. It’s an honour, and like I said, it’s why I do what I do.”
The victory continues an impressive summer for Dunlap. He won the Northeast Amateur and the next week captured one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious amateur titles in the North & South. Dunlap also qualified for the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club, where he missed the cut.
Sargent, 20 and rising junior at Vanderbilt, was having his own strong year, including posting the best amateur score in the US Open and tying for 39th. He rose to No. 1 in the world in February and during his WAGR qualifying period, Sargent has posted 21 top-10s, including four victories.
Sargent and Dunlap grew up not far from each other in Huntsville, Alabama, and competed in plenty of junior tournaments together. But in a testament to their rivalry, they have not been close off the course.
“I don’t know about him, there’s maybe a mutual respect of game between us two, growing up in the same hometown,” Dunlap said. “I think we’ve always been pushed against each other, and it wasn’t until three or four days ago where it got a little bit closer. And like I said, I’ve got a lot of respect for him and looking forward to teaming up with him in about three, four weeks.”
That would be playing for the US in the Walker Cup against Great Britain & Ireland. Both have been chosen for the competition that will be played on the Old Course at St Andrews, September 2-3. They’ll get plenty of time to bond then.
In another notable match, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Bryce Lewis, whose caddie was 2012 US Amateur champion Steven Fox, was beaten by 2&1 by the University of Florida’s Parker Bell.
The round of 32 will be played in the morning on Thursday, followed by the Round of 16 in the afternoon.