Western Washington University golfer Mark Strickland knows a thing or two about bouncing back from adversity.
After a fantastic sophomore season, which gave Strickland his first college tournament victory and two second-place finishes, Strickland struggled in his junior year.
His scoring average ballooned to 75.8 from 74.2 the previous season. He was in one of those infamous golfer lulls.
"It's inevitable honestly," Strickland said in a phone interview. "It just happens. You learn from it, you keep going and you pull out of it."
Strickland came out of it in a big way. He topped a field of 70 golfers over 36 holes at the U.S. Amateur qualifier on July 22 at Suncadia Resort's Tumble Creek Golf Course in Cle Elum.
But even his victory in the qualifier, which only sent three people to the championship, had its ups and downs.
Going into the tournament, Strickland figured a 4-under-par over two rounds would get him to Atlanta for the championship. When he shot a 2-over par 72 in the morning round, Strickland knew he was in a hole.
When he shot a double bogey on the first hole of the afternoon round that hole grew. But the 22-year-old wasn't out of it.
With the course playing extremely tough, maybe an even par score would be enough. That still meant Strickland had to score 4-under over 17 holes.
"At that point, you got to think it's never over until it's over," Strickland said. "My expectations were pretty high going into it. I had to look at the other side: what can I get to qualify?"
Through the final 17 holes, he put four birdies on his scorecard and at the end of the day, Strickland's name was atop the leaderboard.
Now, Strickland will face off against 311 other amateurs at the historic Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga. The course, which was host to Keegan Bradley's PGA Championship win in 2011, has hosted the best golfers in history.
For Strickland to be able to look out over the course, let alone play it, is hard to describe, he said.
"You've seen nothing but on TV," Strickland said. "All these images of legends. I look out over the 18th hole and picture Keegan Bradley's fist pump on the 18th. It's cool stuff."
The tournament begins on Monday, Aug. 11. The first two days are stroke play before the top 64 golfers advance to head-to-head match play.
"My goal right now is to make it to match play," Strickland said. "I don't have to play amazing. I just have to stay out of trouble, stay around even par, hit greens, hit fairways and don't chase birdies."
This isn't Strickland's first run of success. He was critical in WWU's 2012 trip to the NCAA Division II semifinals, but the two aren't comparable, he said.
Strickland is a better golfer since 2012 and that's what keeps Strickland going in golf - the constant drive to improve.
"You can't stop getting better at the game," Strickland said. "I've been in love with it my whole life. It's an endless grind, but I like the grind. It's fun."
Strickland plans to turn professional after his last season in college, but remains undecided on the route he'll attempt in an effort to get to the PGA.
Even if there's a bad spell of golf, certainly Strickland will rebound from it.
Strickland will tee off at 1:10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11, at the Highlands Course. To follow Strickland's play, go online to usga.org.
Reach Joshua Hart by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 360-715-2851.