With so much to look forward to, Mulbe Dillard remembers to look back
May 26, 2021
By Zach Dirlam, PGATOUR.COM
- May 26, 2021
PGA TOUR U
Florida A&M’s Mulbe Dillard Tops Inaugural APGA Collegiate Ranking
Productive driving range sessions can be relaxing. Some might even say therapeutic. Hardly any thinking is necessary. There are no problems to solve, and everything about the game feels effortless.
Mulbe Dillard IV hardly remembers anything of the sort from his pre-teen years at Jackson Park Golf Course in Chicago’s South Side. He looks back and recalls the struggle.
Around Dillard’s second birthday, his father, Mulbe Dillard III, came home from work at the Chicago Water Department and brought him to Jackson Park’s driving range. The two hit balls for hours. Hardly anything came naturally for Dillard, even as the two spent countless nights on the range.
“The great days you have on the driving range where everything feels easy, well, I remember snap hooking it for 30 balls straight trying to figure out what’s going on with my swing,” said Dillard, who thought of himself as a mediocre player until he was roughly 14 years old. “Just the grind of it is what I remember the most.”
After an outstanding senior season at Florida A&M University, Dillard finished No. 1 in the Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA) Collegiate Ranking, and with that he earned a sponsor exemption for next week’s REX Hospital Open on the Korn Ferry Tour. Teeing it up in Raleigh, North Carolina will also mark the start of Dillard’s professional career, the culmination of those late nights with his father and the realization of a childhood dream.
“Knowing that’s where everything started is a great feeling,” Dillard said of Jackson Park. “I’ll probably go back three or four times a year. The guys who were there when I was younger are still there. I still see them. They still remember when I was a little kid starting off, struggling.”
College recruitment was another struggle Dillard navigated on his path to professional golf. As a senior at Whitney Young High School, Dillard had hardly any scholarship offers. There were a couple partials, but nothing that made him feel wanted.
Florida A&M changed everything.
When Dillard reached out about a visit with his mother, a Rattlers coach personally gave them a tour of campus and the practice facilities. The family vibe from Florida A&M’s business school won Dillard over; he committed within a week.
Early in his college career, Dillard’s attention turned away from professional golf and toward private equity and investment banking. Had it not been for an epiphany Dillard had one summer in Chicago, he would likely be out of golf altogether and grinding away in the financial world.
Dillard completed internships with financial institutions in Chicago following his freshman and sophomore years at Florida A&M. The experiences were incredibly rewarding, but Dillard often caught himself thinking, “I should be golfing.” After some encouragement from his father, Dillard fully committed to golf over the next two years. Dillard’s investment returned the No. 1 spot in the APGA Collegiate Ranking, as well as a 19-stroke team victory at the 2021 MEAC Golf Championship for the first conference title in Florida A&M’s history.
“All the hard work is definitely paying off now,” Dillard said. “I graduated with my business administration degree, and it’s something I’ll always love. I love business, finance, stocks, all that. It’s something I found fascinating, but I’m young and getting pretty good at golf. I wanted to, while I’m young, at least have the experience of trying to live the dream I had of being a professional golfer. There is no doubt in my mind I could do it.”
While the REX Hospital Open will mark Dillard’s professional debut, he made a handful of starts on the APGA Tour the past three years. Dillard competed alongside Kamaiu Johnson, Willie Mack III, and Tim O’Neal – players he looked up to as both a teenager and collegian – as an amateur on the circuit. As Dillard established personal connections with each of them, he realized the potential impact his career could make on the next generation of minority players.
“I was able to really talk to those guys,” Dillard said. “For them, it probably wasn’t anything to sit down with a young kid and talk to them, give them advice. That’s the same way I feel. There are probably kids that look up to me, just like I looked up to those guys.”
Dillard’s been paying it forward ever since high school. Jackson Park is not just the place Dillard honed his swing. It is where he started his own golf academy as a senior at Whitney Young. Dillard founded the academy primarily for kids who wanted to learn about golf from someone who looked like them. Dillard was not even sure it would be successful.
By the time he left for Florida A&M, he gave lessons to kids, family friends, and his mom’s co-workers.
“It always feels good to give back and know what you’re doing is going to help and be beneficial to the kids that are going to come after you,” Dillard said. “A lot of people I was giving lessons to were African Americans. It’s easier to relate to someone who looks like you, even with golf and giving lessons. It grew a lot more than I expected it to.”
Dillard returns to Jackson Park three or four times a year. It’s about a five-minute drive from his parents’ home in Chicago. Going back to Jackson Park keeps everything in perspective for Dillard, who hopes to be an inspiration for anyone with the courage to endure the struggle and embrace the grind.
“I like that I’ll hopefully have younger minorities look up to me and go, ‘That’s the guy I want to be like.’ That’s a great feeling to have,” Dillard said. “But not only for minorities, for everybody, like kids who don’t necessarily think they have what it takes to get there.
“For any kid to look up to me and see where I’ve come from is a good feeling.”