Golf is a game of breaks, and so, it could be said, is life. Dani Mullin has learned both of those lessons as well or better than most of her fellow competitors in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Four years ago, during her junior year at Elon University in North Carolina, the New York native injured her right arm and shoulder in an accident.
“I thought my golf career was over,” said Mullin, 24, whose father Pat started her in the game at age 4. “I had also lost interest in golf at the time. It wasn’t my coach’s fault, or my team’s fault, I was just a bit burned out and wanted to focus more on academics.”
She left the Elon golf team, but graduated in 2013 with a degree in psychology with a specialization in neuroscience. Her studies included co-authoring an article in the Australian Journal of Medicine that explored how an acute dose of crude kava root extract impacted problem-solving in healthy young adults. After returning to her native Long Island, she began a PhD program in substance abuse research at Stony Brook University.
“I think it’s the most interesting area to study because it’s such a huge problem in America, especially on Long Island where I’m from,” said Mullin, whose golf balls and bag feature a red ribbon to promote substance-abuse awareness.
But last year, while working on her graduate thesis (a study of the metabolic differences between cocaine and methamphetamine), her father changed everything with a simple question.
“He asked if I wanted to take a break from studying and play with him at Southward Ho Country Club,” Mullin said. “We went out and I played phenomenally well. Afterward he said, ‘Why don’t you enter the club championship? So I did. It’s not crazy competition, but it’s competition nonetheless, and I ended up winning by a pretty big margin.”
That success at the Bay Shore, N.Y., club motivated Mullin to enter a number of local events in 2014. She won both the Long Island Women's Amateur Stroke Play title and Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association Stroke Play Championship.
She also spent the summer caddieing at the National Golf Links of America, in Southampton, N.Y., site of the 2013 Walker Cup. “I learned a lot more about how putts breaks, how different temperaments suit different golfers, and how to facilitate a faster round,” she said. “The caddies are great guys and some are very talented golfers, so I learned a lot from them, too.
“Everyone asks me what my low score is at The National, but the caddie parking lot is right next to the 17th hole, and No. 18 is an uphill par 5, so I’m sad to say I’ve only ever played 17 holes.”
Lingering pain in her shoulder caused Mullin to withdraw from her final five scheduled events in 2014 and undergo intense physical therapy through the winter.
“I told everyone I didn’t want to enter any tournaments until the doctors told me I was fully healed,” she said. “That happened in March.”
Shortly thereafter an old friend from her junior golf days, Ellen Oswald (the 2013 Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association Player of the Year), called and asked if she wanted to try and qualify as a side for the inaugural U.S. Women’s Four-Ball. “I didn’t even know this tournament existed,” Mullin said with a laugh. “I said, sure, let’s do it.”
They earned co-medalist honors at The Country Club of Orlando. On Sunday, after finishing stroke-play qualifying at 2-over-par 146 with rounds of 74 and 72 on Pacific Dunes, she and Oswald were the odd team out in a three-for-two playoff for the final two match-play berths.
Mullin, who turns 25 on Wednesday, will likely attempt to qualify for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. “I’m also considering doing LPGA Qualifying School in August if my arm holds up. This year I’m trying to focus on more regional and national events.”
Golf is clearly fun again for Mullin.
“I am totally into it mentally and physically now,” she said with a smile outside the Pacific Dunes clubhouse. “I’ve been working with my swing coach (Mike Darrell at Mill Pond Golf Course in Medford, N.Y.) and my confidence is getting back up there. I love being out here, but science is still a part of my heart. I was even telling Ellen this morning that taking my brain off golf and putting it on science really helps calm the stress. It’s nice to have two loves.”
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based golf writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.