Troy Meets World: Long-drive champion Troy Mullins also has dreams of the LPGA Tour
Troy Mullins is in motion. Her career, her social media following, her Q rating—her hair. On a warm, early-summer afternoon at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, just outside Manhattan, she’s speed-walking to the women’s locker room. As she moves through the clubhouse patio restaurant, a flatscreen behind the bar is tuned to Golf Channel, which is airing the previous night’s long-drive competition in Atlantic City. And there on the screen, busting drives, with her inimitable curls waving in the wind, is…Troy Mullins.
A foursome of AARP-aged men are posted up at a nearby table, snacking on nachos and eyeing the broadcast as Mullins in the flesh breezes by. “Hey!” one of them blurts, pointing up at the tube. “I bet I can outdrive you.”
“Yeah?” Mullins shoots back without breaking stride. Her grin says what she doesn’t have to: Fat chance.
“I’m not saying it’ll go straight!” the guy quips. And Mullins cracks up. But she still doesn’t stop.
Maybe that’s because she’s used to moving quickly. No ordinary long-drive competitor, Mullins, 31, spends large swaths of time at her home base in Los Angeles, prepping for the bomber circuit but also working toward her dream of joining the LPGA Tour. To keep both options in play, Mullins’s days are packed. She typically rises at 5 a.m. to hit the gym, then, in perhaps the only practice-week routine of its kind, alternates every few days between toughening up her long-drive blasts and tightening up her complete golf game, to simultaneously build power and develop the array of skills she hopes will push her through LPGA Q school later this year. On most afternoons, she hustles from the course to her side-hustle, as a math and science tutor and home-school teacher.
“Soooo,” Mullins says, waiting a beat, “it’s a long day.” And with that, she unleashes the easy laugh and telegenic smile of a woman sure of where she’s heading: prime time.
“She would be one of the most popular LPGA players ever if she can get that done,” says Art Sellinger, a Golf Channel analyst and two-time World Long Drive champion. “She has charisma, she’s gorgeous and her swing—what I call ‘science, not violence’—is flawless.”
Mullins came to golf relatively late, but she got a jump with genetics. She grew up in L.A., where her father, Billy, was an elite sprinter at USC. Following in her dad’s footsteps, she competed in the heptathlon at Cornell, where she majored in Chinese studies and became fluent in both Mandarin and sign language. (Stop us if any of this sounds like a typical path to professional golf.) Just before heading to Beijing for six months of study, with the goal of a career in law and, eventually, a Chinese ambassadorship, she hit an L.A. driving range and found herself captivated by a fresh challenge.
“I’ve always been interested in self-improvement and growth,” she says. “And with golf, I quickly grew from a terrible golfer to a decent golfer.”
In her first full round, Mullins broke 100, and within a few months she was puring 8-irons 150 yards. She pushed pause on law school and began teeing it up regularly at public tracks in California. Her scores down-sized from the mid 90s to the low 90s, then from the 80s to the 70s, a feat even more impressive given that the future long-driver wasn’t yet using an actual driver.
“I hated what woods looked like, and I didn’t understand how to hit a driver,” Mullins says. “I borrowed my grandmother’s—she had old clubs in the garage. And the first time I hit it the head went flying. I was like, ‘I hate these things. What’s the point?’ ”
In the fall of 2012, Mullins broke down and bought her first real driver, a Ping Anser with an extra-stiff shaft. After a week of practice with it, she entered a USGA qualifier and successfully advanced to the U.S. Mid-Am, the top amateur event for post-collegiate players. Later that same week, at the urging of a friend, she entered the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship in Mesquite, Nev. It is, essentially, the Super Bowl of the sport. Despite using that same Ping standard length–shafted driver, Mullins placed second with a blast of 321 yards.
“I was so nervous. It was loud, and people were yelling and screaming my name,” she remembers. “I didn’t realize it was like going to a WWE match. Coming in second was just incredible and very shocking.”
It’s doubtful anyone in golf history has had a week quite like that one. To celebrate, Mullins purchased a Pomeranian puppy and named it Etta James, after the legendary R&B singer. The pooch tags along on road trips.
Troy and Etta will log plenty of miles as she now embarks on her complicated and unlikely balancing act between power driver and LPGA hopeful. Her long-drive career is ascendant. In July 2017, she hammered one 402 yards en route to winning her first title, at the World Long Drive Mile High Showdown in Denver. But six years after gripping that first driver, she’s still chasing the LPGA Tour. Are her chances realistic?
“Let’s put it this way,” says George Gankas, a Los Angeles-based instructor who has worked with Mullins off and on for more than a year. “She’s super-smart and a major talent. If she played competitive golf once a week, I have no doubt she’d make it on Tour. With how far she hits the ball, all she’d need are wedges.”
“As a long-driver, she’s phenomenal,” adds Golf Channel’s Sellinger. “But in that competition there are only about eight [women] who can really hit it. With the athlete that Troy is, she’s going to do well every time. But when 156 players tee it up at a Tour event, 120 can win it. Trying to get the ball in the hole without having played competitive golf growing up is so hard. You just need so many reps. Think of all these ladies who have played elite college golf. It’s a thicket.”
Mullins’ road to the Tour may be daunting, but her potential star power is undeniable. In a sport not exactly known for its diversity, Mullins is ready to embrace her standing as a golfer of color. “I think I can help to grow the game in a different way,” she says, citing Serena Williams, Marion Jones and Althea Gibson as role models. Sometime soon she hopes to start a charity or latch onto one that integrates two of her passions: sports and education.
About two years ago, she reluctantly joined Instagram, where she uses the handle @trojangoddess (“Trojan” was Mullins’ nickname on the track, and a runner in L.A. called her “Golf Goddess,” so she combined the two) and has amassed 60,000-plus followers. “It’s evolved on its own,” she says. “I didn’t know I was going to have this many followers. People can see my swing, see what I’m doing and see that I’m capable.”
They can also see her work it like a fashion model. Hang with friends. And, of course, rock those locks. Even in a culture where “natural” is au courant, Mullins’ barely tamed mane commands attention—although she insists it isn’t an attempt to run with the cool crowd.
“I’ve had my hair like this my whole life,” she says. “I just always liked it curly. It was definitely not cool. Not a thing. Then the Spice Girls came out. That helped. Now natural is in.”
Maybe Troy Mullins became cool almost by accident, just as she became a long-drive champ almost on a whim. She knows that competing on the LPGA Tour most certainly isn’t about chance. But she also knows it’s all right there in front of her.
“I’m excited for the possibilities,” she says. “And it doesn’t bother me that I have to work hard. I know I can get there.”