HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- Two years ago, as a sophomore, Alabama senior Trey Mullinax wasn't sure what was next. He wasn't performing up to his own, or his team's expectations. He wasn't getting starts that year, playing in three events after participating in eight his freshman year. Frustration began to settle in as he wondered if he wanted to continue playing golf.
It was a good thing he decided to stick it out. Alabama won the national championship last year and he holds a key leadership role on the Crimson Tide team this year. But even before the national success, his freshman year was rather memorable.
That year, He scored three rounds in the 60s, which was his best until this year, when he recorded12 rounds in the 60s. Still a developing talent, he played his way into the Crimson Tide's starting lineup, earning his way onto the team's NCAA championship's roster.
While competing at the NCAA championship, a freshman year filled of happy-go-lucky success came to a halt. He recorded two rounds in the 80s, and a 79 before Alabama bowed out.
Mullinax said it was the beginning to a rough summer. One that bridged him to a year of adversity, introspection, and self-improvement.
"I was bad my sophomore year. I wasn't playing good golf," he said. "It wasn't fun but battling through the adversity makes you stronger."
He began focusing on the aspects where he struggled. Chipping and putting, specifically. Always able to hit a sharp drive off the tee, he said the other aspects of his game needed work before returning to the starting lineup.
He described his short game plainly: "It was mediocre."
The time he spent practicing with Alabama coach Jay Seawell might've been his fondest golfing experience that year considering his struggles with the game on and off the course. Mullinax's limited appearances that year meant he had plenty of time to refine those aspects of his game.
"Working on chipping and putting, the areas where you score, helped me a lot," he said.
Coach Seawell was impressed with Mullinax's improvement that year. Seawell saw how hard Mullinax had worked that season, and was prepared to wipe the slate clean and reward him for his hard work.
"Coach told me leading into my junior year that i could be a leader, and to not let anything affect me and keep battling," he said. "So I did that my junior year and played well."
Mullinax hasn't turned back since.
Last year, he lowered his average round score by three strokes from his sophomore campaign. He earned multiple top-10 finishes (3) for the first time, more than doubled his rounds at par or better (13) than his freshman year (6), and sliced his overall score versus par (+32) by more than half compared to his first year (+78). All of this came as he played only one more event than he had his freshman year.
The culmination of his improvement came at the NCAA championship, where he had a chance to redeem his performance two years ago not only for himself, but for his team.
When he found himself entering the 2013 championship round of match play against Illinois' Charlie Danielson, the big stage didn't affect him as it had two years prior, where he averaged a score of 82 in his three rounds. He played with confidence, using the lesson's he painstakingly learned on the practice course the year before.
Mullinax beat Danielson, contributing to Alabama's dominant championship round where they took four of five matches against Illinois. It was the program's first national title in golf.
He won a national championship ring with his performance that year, but he truly earned it by spending countless hours practicing his chipping and putting the previous year.
"Coach Seawell helped me out a lot. He put a lot of hours in with me," he said. "He got me where I am today."
This year, he's played with confidence. He is no longer self-conscious of his ability to shoot away from the tee. He has a national championship ring to show how much he has accomplished on the course. He helped lead the Crimson Tide to a dominant season. This year, Alabama won 123 matches and lost only five. They're favorites to come home from Prairie Dunes with back-to-back national championships.
"It gives you confidence knowing you can play with these guys," he said.
But make no mistakes, Mullinax and crew didn't come here to defend anything from last year. They're here to win it the same way they did last year.
"We're not trying to come in and play defensive golf," he said. "We're trying to play offensive golf."
Alabama got off to a strong start after two rounds, with a team score of eight under par, second to Stanford's 12 under. The Crimson Tide are in strong position to move into match play. The top eight teams after three rounds will advance to match play to determine the national champion.
Mullinax posted a +3 after two rounds, describing his play as "mediocre." The team's second-place sitting highlights how much of a team effort goes into the stroke-play portion of the tournament.
It's another day for him to go out and wipe the slate clean, just as Coach Seawell did after Mullinax's sophomore year struggles. After all the adversity he's faced on the course his first two years, it's easy for him to put a mediocre 36-holes at the championship behind him.
Now at his last collegiate tournament, he can always remember how far he's come from his first time at this tournament.