Mills' victory proves excitement of Public Links
BANDON, Ore. – Do not tell me amateur golf is a snooze.
Do not tell me match play lacks drama.
Do not tell me Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is located somewhere near the end of the earth and is practically unreachable.
In a wild and wacky 37-hole final that saw him go from 4 up to 1 down and then bounce back with two crucial birdies in the final four holes of regulation play, Clemson golfer Corbin Mills won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
It required one extra hole late Satuday afternoon, but Mills edged UNLV’s Derek Ernst in an APL final marked by spectacular shots and a monumental lead change.
The extra-hole victory at Bandon’s Old MacDonald course raised a few pulse rates and provided spectators with a flurry of birdies down the stretch. Five of the final 10 holes in regulation were won with birdies.
Ernst was 4 down with 10 holes remaining. He then won five consecutive holes, including three with birdies.
“I told myself, ‘Make birdies,’ and that’s what I did,” Ernst said. “It was pretty exciting.”
Mills had a different perspective: “He kind of changed the whole pace on me. He won a couple of holes, and he started picking up the pace.
“I said to myself, ‘I gotta slow this down,’ and I told my caddie, ‘They’re trying to get to us,’ so I started walking slow, and I told my caddie to slow down.”
Ernst said he might have been excited, but in no way did he try to beat his opponent with anything but great golf. He pointed out that he always walks fast on the course.
“I had to completely regroup and slow down,” Mills said. “Finally, on 15, I got the momentum back. I got back into my game plan.”
Standing on the 15th tee, Mills was 1 down. He birdied the par-5 hole with a 14-foot putt to square the match.
However, Mills gave the lead right back to Ernst when he missed the green on the par-4 16th, hit a fantastic lob shot, then lipped out a 4-foot putt and took bogey.
The 17th was another par 5, and Mills hit the green with a 6-iron second shot and two-putted for birdie from 35 feet. The match again was all square.
On the par-4 18th, both had sand wedge shots to the green. Neither could get within 20 feet of the cup. Mills two-putted, and Ernst slammed his first putt past the hole before making a 7-footer coming back.
On the extra hole, the par-4 first, both players again faced wedge shots from just inside 100 yards.
Trying to keep his ball under the wind, which had stiffened to about 20 mph, Ernst punched an 8-iron but left the ball 70 feet short of the cup.
Mills, hitting second, came up 30 feet short.
Ernst barely missed a 10-foot par putt, and Mills converted a 2-footer for victory.
The other winner clearly was Bandon Dunes, emerging as perhaps the most tantalizing golf facility in the overall USGA rotation. Bandon Dunes has now hosted the Curtis Cup, U.S. Mid-Amateur and this year’s APL and Women’s APL.
“I love this place,” said Mills, 21, of Anderson, S.C. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and I just love it. I have become a huge fan of links-style golf.”