A year ago, Jon Mills of Belleville, Ont., began posting numbers that weren’t exactly Tiger-like, but definitely proof that he was making strides in his second go-round on the PGA Tour compared to his first tour of duty in 2006.
Having already posted a couple of top-20s earlier in the season, Mills tied for 26th at the Memorial in early June and followed that up with a tie for 36th at the U.S. Open, a finish that earned him a direct ticket into sectional qualifying this year.
Mills added another top-20 before the end of June and would finish with four of those by the end of the season, which wasn’t the happy time it was expected to be at the beginning of summer after he missed the cut in his last eight tournaments, forcing him back to qualifying school, where he tied for 70th.
It’s at this point where mental toughness becomes a critical factor in future success. Will a player obsess on what might have been or taking something positive out the experience and put it to good use sometime in the future?
“I’ll be honest,” said Mills. “I was pretty disappointed after last year’s finish, even going back to Q-school.
“I remember walking off my last round (at Q-school). Going into the round, I had a good chance of getting my card back. I remember walking to my car, talking to my caddie and saying, `Man, that’s the most disappointing round of golf I’ve ever played my entire life.’
“Up to that point, I felt like I was going to make it back (to the PGA Tour),” he added. “I was playing well, I put myself in the position to do it. I guess it was the first realization that I was going to go back to the Nationwide Tour and it was pretty frustrating.
“Now, I’m back to that mentality of wanting to be here and playing well and looking forward to this year,” said Mills, adding that he can take something positive out of last year, such as his performances at the Memorial and U.S. Open.
“To play well at those events against the top players in the world, I think it’s definitely huge and I can take a lot from those events with my confidence,” said Mills, who will try again to qualify for the U.S. Open on June 8 in Columbus, Ohio.
June is almost upon us and Mills is again looking to heat up at the beginning of summer and bolt from his current position of 40th on the Nationwide Tour money list into the top 25 who get their PGA Tour cards. His third career win on that circuit or two or three top-10s would do the trick nicely.
“This is definitely a big five weeks for me because it’s the first long stretch of the year for me. My focus is definitely to do something in this stretch,” said Mills, who has offered a few recent hints that he’s up to that task.
Two weeks ago, he tied for sixth at the South Georgia Classic and just over a week ago, he was just one shot off the lead going into the third round of the BMW Charity Pro-Am, but on moving day, he stalled out in the last two rounds.
“I got off to a great start even though it didn’t pan out,” said Mills, who shot 65-66 in the first two rounds, but eventually tied for 50th. “On Saturday, I think I was two-under after nine and just didn’t play well on the back nine. I kind of did the same thing on Sunday.”
After starting this season with four missed cuts in his first six tournaments, Mills says his putting stroke is back after adopting a cross-handed style.
“When I set up normally, when I’m not cross-handed, my arms tend to align open. Having the left hand low, it straightens my left arm. On top of that, it was easier to keep that left arm steady through the stroke,” he said.
“Every week since then, I’ve putted really well. The week I played in Valdosta (Ga.), I didn’t hit the ball very good at all and I putted probably one of my best putting rounds,” said Mills, whose two previous seasons on the PGA Tour came as a result of him placing in the top 25 on the Nationwide.
What he does over the next five weeks will determine if he plays in the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont., in July. Mills missed the 2007 edition at Angus Glen so he could concentrate on regaining his PGA Tour card again, which he did.
The same might hold true again.
“I’ve just got to weigh the possibilities. Ideally, I’d like to have an event or two where I play really well on the Nationwide prior to (the Canadian Open) and it gets me in a position where I’m looking good in the top 25,” added Mills.
“I know, last time, I had a couple of good finishes prior to it and I was hovering right around that number, but I hadn’t won and it wasn’t sealed by that time,” he said
Mills isn’t the only Canadian looking to charge into the top-25 in the next few weeks as Dustin Risdon of Strathmore, Alta., is tied for 36th on the money list.