Planet Golf — 25 April 2022 by Jim Street
Dunlap has chance to join exclusive club

BANDON, Ore. – When the best teen-age golfers from the United States, Canada and Mexico tee it up on two amazingly diverse golf courses at world-renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort this summer, only one of the 264 competitors can join a very select group.

That would be 19-year-old Nicholas Dunlap from Huntsville, AL.

In the 73-year history of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, only two players have won the title more than once. You might have heard of them – Tiger Woods (1991-92-93) and Jordan Spieth (2009-2011).

The University of Alabama-bound Dunlap, who already has completed his high school studies (thanks to on-line classes), is the defending USGA Junior Amateur champion, having captured the 2021 title with a 3-and-2 victory over Cohen Trolio in the grueling 36-hole championship match at The Country Club of North Carolina at Pinehurst.

But the six-day (July 25-30) event figures to be even more difficult because of the diversity that faces the best-of-the-best amateurs.

Starting off, the first two days of stroke play will be played at Bandon Trails, a meandering 6,887 yards through a forest that also serves as homes for deer and wild turkeys, among other critters.

The top 64 players advance to match play with six rounds over four days at Bandon Dunes, a coast-hugging, windy, and often-times downpour, thrill-a-minute journey that measures 7,228 yards and plays as a par 72. Good luck.

“I don’t know if this compares to anywhere else in America,” said Dunlap, who visited the resort for the first time in April. “Maybe Scotland.”

He played a couple of rounds and walked both courses to take home and hopefully not lose any sleep over what lurks.

A quick Q and A with the reigning Junior Amateur Champ.

What are your first impressions of the courses here at Bandon Dunes?

Nick: It is nothing like I have ever seen before.

Do you think the two courses being used will be fun or challenging?

Nick: I think it will be both. It could be windy and cold with a lot of rain, or sunny and calm. You just never know. I think the way you go about it is try to have as much fun as possible. I will practice on hitting low shots off the tee and figuring out the best way to hit onto the greens. I’m really not used to putting from 20 yards off the green.

Who are your primary competitors?

Nick. Oh gosh. There are a lot, actually. I have competed a lot against Ben James, who is going to Virginia, and Jonathan Griz, who is going to Alabama with me. And Lou Potter. We have competed against each other lots of times and we hang out together.

What advantage does the defending champion have in the U.S. Junior National Tournament?

Nick: It helps to know in your mind that you can do it because you’ve done it before. But once you tee it up, you don’t have any other advantage. You are even, you’re not one-up. But you definitely have the advantage of knowing you can do it.

Is there one shot that you remember from last year that turned the finals match around for you?

Nick: It probably was the putt on No. 8 when I made about a 12-footer that broke about a foot to go from three down to two down. That changed my mindset completely. I was down on myself because I was hitting the ball all over the place.

Can you take anything from your preparations last year to help prepare you for this year?

Nick: Absolutely. It is such a long way out here and I know I’ll be better prepared than last year when I had a lot of mishaps, including missing my flight for a practice round. I think things will be different this year. Anything can happen, losing your clubs or whatever, so while I am out here I will spend more time walking the courses and practicing than I did last year.

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, made his first and only hole-in-one on March 12, 2018 at Sand Point Country Club in Seattle and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick, Gleneagles and Castle Stuart in Scotland, and numerous gems in Hawaii are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League Baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and has an 8-year-old grandson, Andrew, who is the club's current junior champion at his home course (Oakmont CC) in Glendale, Calif.

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