My latest National Post column, on Oshawa’s Jon Mills, can’t be found online anywhere and some editor cut the heck out of it, so here’s the full version:
Reclining on a couch in a downtown Toronto hotel, wearing a [photopress:jonmills.jpg,full,alignright]tattered baseball hat and jeans, Jon Mills could be mistaken for just another tourist on a relaxing holiday.
But for Mills, from Oshawa, Ont., it is one of the few remaining leisurely days he has remaining before spending a month in preparation for his second crack at the PGA Tour.
This time Mills expects a better result than his rookie year on tour in 2006. Wide-eyed and struggling with unfamiliar courses, Mills game, and then his confidence, faltered in his inaugural showing on golfs greatest stage. But after making US$366,244 on the Nationwide Tour, and finishing fourth on the money list, Mills is ready for his second shot at the PGA Tour.
I dont think this is that big of a leap, especially looking at some of the success of the guys from the Nationwide Tour, he says. Guys like Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Camilo Villegas. I played with them and I know the level they can play at. When I play with them there is not much difference. It is just a matter of confidence.
Mills kicks off his season the second week of January in Hawaii at the Sony Open.
His success on the Nationwide Tour meant he did not have to endure the grind that is the PGA Tours final stage of qualifying school, six rounds over six days of pure anxiety. He looks tense even describing the experience, which he went through twice.
Even when youre done, whether you get in or not, youre just relieved, he says.
Though there were four Canadians at Q-School, none made it through to the PGA Tour, with Ian Leggatt, Brad Fritsch, Lee Curry and Bryan Decorso all simply receiving conditional status on the tour. Mills has been in their shoes before so he sympathizes with the challenge the four golfers face.
They need to get out and play a few decent events early in the season and set yourself up for the rest of the year, he says.
Which is exactly what Mills didnt do earlier this year after bouncing back to the Nationwide Tour after his stint on the PGA Tour. Mills struggled, playing infrequently and missing cuts. Then suddenly in May he popped a new shaft in his driver, started finding the short grass off the tee and posted three top 10 finishes in four starts.
The season was capped off by a decision to turn down and exemption into the Canadian Open in Markham, Ont. to play that week on the Nationwide Tour and make sure he secured status on the PGA Tour.
It was tough decision to make at the time, Mills says about turning down an invite to the Canadas premier golf event. But with the new date it came at the same time as one of our big events. I just couldnt come to play. I looked at it and thought do I want to play the Canadian Open this one year, or see beyond that, get on tour and play it for many years.
Though he only finished 17th that week, in September he won the Boise Open and rose near the top of the Nationwide Tour money list, assuring himself a spot in the world of courtesy cars and pristine golf courses starting in January.
My confidence just kept growing and growing, he says. But playing five weeks straight at the end of the year might not have been smart. I was a little burned out.
Mills says hes a different player now than he was for his first try at the PGA Tour. While at one time his style of play “ hit it long off the tee, find it, wedge it onto the green “ would have fit in nicely with the emerging trend of bomb and gouge golfers on tour. And though Mills can still hit it as far as ever “ I tend to hit it between 300 and 315 yards off the tee, he says “ he spent his year on the Nationwide Tour hitting more fairways and greens.
Hes also more familiar with the courses hell face, a big change from his rookie year. In 2006 he would often get into some events through the alternate list, which caused problems on courses with which he was unfamiliar.
Id fly in on a red-eye, get nine holes in before the pro-am on a course Id never seen and play the next day, he says. Welcome to your first year on the PGA Tour.
Next year will be different, he adds. Hes already planning on heading to Palm Desert, Calif. to play the courses for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in preparation. But aside from that, it is business as usual for the 29-year-old.
Im doing what Im doing every year, he says, which includes a recent session with his coach, Dave Woods. The only difference is Im getting ready sooner. Ill be ready in time.