FedExCup bubble boy Trey Mullinax enjoying second life
4 Min Read
Has rebounded from freak accident, father’s cancer to put together career-best season
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
Trey Mullinax holes out from 57 feet for eagle at FedEx St. Jude Champ
GERMANTOWN, Tenn. – Trey Mullinax could have found fault with his first-round 66 at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. He didn’t putt well. He bogeyed 15 and 18.
But the fact is he’s in the glass-half-full business these days.
“I think 4 under was the highest I could have shot,” said Mullinax, who began the week at No. 70 in the FedExCup and clinging to the final spot for next week’s BMW Championship. “I hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go, but if I keep doing what I’m doing I have a good chance.”
Mullinax isn’t complaining because he knows real trouble is more than just a balky putter.
Nine months ago, Chip Mullinax, Trey’s dad, first coach and best friend, was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer. Trey was playing in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba when he heard the news. He missed the cut. Chip, a former stock car racer who runs the family transmission shop in Birmingham, Alabama, underwent five months of chemo and three rounds of radiation. Trey kept missing cuts.
By the time the Barbasol Championship rolled around last month, Mullinax had missed 14 cuts in 23 starts, but there was something different about him. Chip had been declared cancer-free three weeks earlier. Unburdened, Trey birdied the 72nd hole to win the Barbasol for his first PGA TOUR title.
“I tried to not let it affect me,” Mullinax said at TPC Southwind, where he was four behind early leaders Si Woo Kim and J.J. Spaun. “But mentally it’s tough, watching your dad, your best friend, go through cancer. I don’t blame any of my poor golf on that. I just wasn’t playing that great. But then we got good news, and it might have freed me up a little bit.” He paused. Reconsidered. “But I knew he was cancer-free a couple tournaments before Barbasol,” he said, “and I missed all those cuts, too.” Mullinax laughed.
It hasn’t always been easy to keep his sense of humor, especially not after one of his amateur playing partners nailed him in the back of the head with a ball at the 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge. Mullinax lost consciousness but upon visiting the ER in Fort Worth was given pain pills and released.
He finished T40 at the Charles Schwab, but something was wrong. He began to lose sight of the ball while standing over it. He was moody. He had persistent headaches.
He missed the cut in his next six starts through the Barbasol, where he shot 77 with a cold towel around his neck, threw up in the locker room, and passed out trying to get to his hotel room. Doctors told him his concussion was more serious than he’d known and playing in the heat had made it worse. His season was over.
Mullinax fell off the TOUR despite a Minor Medical Extension, and figures that, combined with the pandemic, his concussion set his career back about two years. “It took me four months of vision therapy just to be able to see the ball again,” he said.
He regained his TOUR card through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals last fall.
Fast forward to today and he is one of the TOUR’s emerging talents at age 30.
“There’s not five people in the world who hit the driver like him,” said Jay Seawell, his old coach at Alabama. (Mullinax is 25th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee.) “Maybe Rory and a couple of others. He is really, really good but there were times when I think he wondered if he should be doing this. As soon as his dad got cleared, you could almost see the burden come off him.”
Mark Blackburn, Mullinax’s swing coach back in Birmingham, called him “a top-20 player in the world, no problem.
“He’s super-talented,” Blackburn added. “We’re just working on better decision-making and strategy. He’s a sponge. I’m trying to get him to hit lower, cut drivers to find more fairways.”
Like Seawell and Blackburn, Justin Thomas, one of Mullinax’s old teammates at Alabama, was among those who tried to encourage him during the lean times.
“I just wanted to be a friend more than anything,” Thomas said Thursday after signing for a first-round 67. “I mean, I love Trey to death; he’s one of the nicest people, got one of the biggest hearts, his family is incredible. I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at their house when I was in college.
“I know how good he is,” he continued. “Trey is so freakishly talented he could win a lot out here and stay out here as long as he wants. I expect a lot out of him.”
Mullinax won’t have much wiggle room over the next three days, but so far, so good. He’s got aunts and uncles here watching him, plus his mom and dad. Friends. To them, and to his wife Abi and their two kids, the important part isn’t his scores, although those are nice. It’s that the hard stuff is behind him.
“I’ve been hitting it good for a long time, I just haven’t scored,” Mullinax said before going to find his crew of supporters. “And now I’m finally scoring. I’ve got to think the good Lord’s got a plan.”
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.