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Troy Mullins is long drive golf champion but she’s striving for the LPGA

The golfer says she plays at a different level: ‘I hit the ball like a guy’

She’s a champion in a sport where strength and agility is praised, not questioned. Not that it’s a cakewalk as a woman of color at the top of her game, but she plays through it and comes out successful.

It is the women’s World Long Drive Competition, a showcase for women who can hit a golf ball out of sight. Founded in 2000, it’s a fun, trash-talking sport where women gifted with a hard-core golf swing are recognized apart from the more subdued game of the LPGA.

And she is Troy Mullins, who at 25 has mastered it. In late July, she won the 2017 World Long Drive Mile High Showdown, although she’s only been playing golf since she was 21. Her winning drive was 374 yards, and her ultimate goal is to play on the LPGA Tour. A 4 handicap, Mullins had qualified for the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur even before the long drive competition.

The 5-foot-8 golfer, known by some as the “Trojan Goddess,” placed second in her first competition, the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship in 2012 with a drive of 321 yards using a regular-length driver. In 2016, she took sixth place at the Golf Channel World Long Drive Championship. Mullins’ win included a $7,000 purse, her trophy and bragging rights.

“I’m still shocked. I can’t believe it,” Mullins said in an interview. “I kept my head down [on that last ball], and I didn’t even know if it made it in the grid. I’m really proud of myself. … I’m doing this on my own, not sponsored. I come here with my two clubs and I’m doing it. And I think this is a great way to get people into the sport. This is how I got into golf, just coming out and having fun. I hope to stay in it for a long time.”

Mullins is a Cornell University grad who majored in China-Asia Pacific studies and international relations. She visited the driving range just for fun with a family friend who got her involved in the sport.

“He would just take me to this driving range, and I would love hitting balls,” Mullins said.

After college, she stopped running track and returned home to Los Angeles with a plan to become a U.S. ambassador to China, but she wasn’t quite sure whether law school was really what she wanted her next step to be.

“I kind of was just here deciding and fell into golf,” Mullins said. “Enough people said, ‘You know what? Your swing is that good, you could make it on tour.’ ”

She started her own business homeschooling and tutoring to support her golf dreams. According to her website, Mullins was a member of the Cornell women’s track and field team as a heptathlete. She followed in the footsteps of her father, Billy Mullins, who was a world-class sprinter.

Being a woman of color in the game of golf has presented some challenges that have driven her to conquer the sport she loves.

“Especially in this sport, where it’s not very integrated yet, we’re trying,” Mullins explained. “But I’ve heard of a lot of stories of other-race women getting sponsorships, and they’re not better than me. We can get the same scores, but there’s something there. And I haven’t quite figured out what that is. It seems like as a woman of color I’m only getting recognition now because I’ve won. And it’s tough. It’s hard. And then on top of that, going to country clubs, I’m usually the only African-American woman or African-American in general. I just met another African-American golfer, and she lives in New York and I’m not sure how her experience is there. You don’t meet many of us. It makes it tough. It’s different.”

Mullins rises at 5 a.m. and starts her day with exercise, either yoga or Pilates. She also does spinning. By midmorning, she’s playing golf or at a driving range. In the afternoon, she’s tutoring and homeschooling. Right now she has about 15 students, but during the school year, her client load may double. Balance is sometimes hard, but she’s gotten into a routine that works.

“It’s hard,” Mullins said. “Basically, I don’t have a social life. I work on the weekends. I wake up early and I go to bed early, and especially now if I’m going to be playing more tournaments. It’s really tough because golfing takes about five to six hours a day, not including any practice. That’s just play. It’s tough creating a schedule, especially balancing a schedule with students. It’s not as rigid as I wish it was.”

Mullins spoke with The Undefeated about her journey in life, golf and her future.

What’s been your inspiration for everything that you do?

I’ve been supporting my own sport and doing my own thing for a while and starting my own business and tutoring people. Now, it’s kind of about inspiring others. I have young siblings. It’s great to see how my students respond to my different achievements. They’re also motivated themselves. I tutor a girl that’s also a golfer. Now she calls me and she’s excited about golf. And it’s great to see that I can inspire others to do this as well. It’s not just for me anymore.

And then also for myself. I’m inspired by so many athletes. I’m inspired by Tiger Woods. As a kid I was inspired by Marion Jones and even Serena and Venus [Williams]. Black athletes and having to be the best in their sport just to be recognized, just to be out there. There’s something about us having to be No. 1 to be put in the spotlight, that we can’t be too mediocre. I’m working really hard to do my best in this sport. It’s tough.

How was your experience as a college athlete at Cornell?

Mostly, different. I wanted to try something new. I didn’t realize when I went to visit how small the town was. But it was very small. Much smaller than I thought when I went to tour it. But it was a good experience. I got to experience a lot of snow. My major was great because we spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and then we also spent a little more than a semester in Beijing at the Peking University. I spent a lot of time away from Cornell, which was so cool. Even with the track team, we traveled every weekend to different cities and different colleges. I had a great time there.

How was your life growing up?

My mother’s side was always more academic. I went to Marlborough’s all-girls high school. It was really important that I got a great education. Growing up, I was a child actress. I actually stopped as a kid because they wanted me to quit my high school. My family was like, ‘Yeah, no, that’s not happening.’ I got out of acting. It was really important that I go to college. I was an all-around athlete. I enjoyed doing a lot of sports. I loved volleyball. I was even an OK swimmer and tennis player. But track and volleyball were my two main sports going into high school, which was really tough too. They made me choose which sport to focus on. I was always a great runner. My heart wasn’t in it as much as volleyball, but when I found out I was going to be like 5-10, it made it an easy decision. I focused on track, getting good grades and getting into a good school.

How do you handle the competition mentally and emotionally?

I think that’s the biggest struggle for me, to be honest. I think I’ve been given the talent and skill pretty easily. I didn’t really struggle in golf. Coming into the sport late has always been a little bit of trying to build my confidence because I’m competing against girls that have been, one, playing their whole life. Played in college. Played on their high school teams. Not knowing, even learning a lot of the rules and the etiquette in the beginning, I was a little bit self-conscious, so it made it hard to compete with them.

And then on top of that, because I play at a different level, meaning I hit the ball like a guy, that’s also a little interesting. You don’t make a lot of women friends when you hit it past them like 100 yards. I’ve even struggled with playing being myself, being able to be OK with being the longest girl out there. Yeah, I was even reminded of that this weekend. I feel like in golf, I’m always a little bit out of my element. Not only being African-American, but when you play tournament golf, the girls are a little bit smaller or skinnier or blonder. And it’s a different type of tournament than the long drive. The long drive, the women are bigger than me.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?

Probably from one of my golf buddies. I think he said that I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve grown up pretty privileged, and I’ve never really had to struggle. And the paths that I’ve chosen as an athlete, now I have to make decisions where I’m going to feel uncomfortable. Having to take on less students to be able to do more tournaments. Whereas before, I’m living pretty comfortably in L.A., which is expensive, so I’ve got to work hard. But there’s that balance. Now, I have to make the choice, do I go after the dream and be a little bit uncomfortable or stay in my lane and work, which is what I’m used to. Even in other terms, putting myself into tournaments and even playing in the long drive. There were times when I was going to pull out of the long drives because I was so nervous about not being ready, not being strong enough. But I think that was really wise to say to me, because I’m not someone that likes risk. Still learning how to put myself out there and be uncomfortable, but getting it done kind of thing.

What do you look forward to most in the future?

I like accomplishing goals. I’ve always been a list person. Checking off things on my list is great. But future goals, honestly, I just want to have a really big family. That’s kind of really what I want. I’d love to be on tour, obviously. And I’d love to set records as an African-American woman. I’d like to inspire others, other black girls, black boys, to get out there and do this sport and to get involved. And I’d like it to be more integrated and less exclusive. Less expensive too.

What do you suggest young black and brown girls and boys do from the financial aspect of it?

I’m still working on that aspect too. When I first graduated, while I was tutoring I also worked at different golf courses. That allows you at least free play, free balls, free practice. Getting involved in the golf business is definitely a way to make it less expensive. I just feel like that the issue is the more we get involved, the more color that we see on tour, maybe golf will get less expensive because more people will be playing. But I think right now, the golf industry’s dying because Tiger’s not in it. We have a lot of great tour players. Jordan Spieth is great and, of course, like Dustin Johnson. But it’s not bringing people like it did with Tiger. Until more people join, it’ll still be the expensive sport that it is.

What’s up next for you?

The tournament’s on the 5th and the 6th of September, the Volvik World Long Drive Championship — WinStar World Casino, Thackerville, Oklahoma. Hopefully I’ll win. Goalwise is doing my best, doing better. … It’s hard to do better than last time because we were at elevation, and elevation has a little bit to do with how far the balls go. I proved a lot to myself the last time I played. My No. 1 goal was to make top eight, and then I did it. So then my next goal was to make top four. This time I’m going to set out to do the same thing. I don’t put my expectations too high. That’s always been me. I like to just be reasonable. So reasonable to me is to make top eight. And if I do that, top four. If I do that, top two. And if I win, then awesome.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.