Clemson’s Mills wins Public Links title

Clemson’s Corbin Mills became the first qualifying medalist to win the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 11 years, holing a 5-foot par putt on the 37th hole Saturday to finish off UNLV’s Derek Ernst.

The 21-year-old Mills, from Easley, S.C., is the first qualifying medalist to win the title since former Clemson star D.J. Trahan in 2000. Mills squared the wind-swept match with a conceded eagle on the 35th hole and matched Ernst with a par on the 36th to force the extra hole on Bandon Dunes’ Old Macdonald course.

”It’s unbelievable,” Mills said. ”I never thought I’d make it this far. You know, I started off bad. Even getting here wasn’t good. You know, God really blessed me. He really did.

He earned a spot in the 2012 Masters, if still an amateur.

”It hasn’t sunk in all the way, but I think here shortly it will,” Mills said. ”It’s kind of always been a dream. It’s never been one of those things that I was thinking at the beginning of the week, `If I win, I get in the Masters’ or anything like that.”

He’s fighting an ear infection and pink eye.

”I think I got the ear infection like two days before I came out here,” Mills said. ”Then on the plane ride here, my eye started leaking stuff. I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear out of my left ear. I still can’t hardly hear out of my left ear, but it’s good. It ended on a really good note.”

Mills had a 4-up lead, but Ernst – the 21-year-old Clovis, Calif., player who won the 2010 and 2011 Mountain West Conference titles – won five straight holes to take a 1-up lead with five to play.,

”I kept telling myself that I was still in it,” Ernst said. ”I was down, but I still believed I could pull it off.”

The first hole stymied Ernst all day. In both the morning round and playoff, he three-putted for bogey. In the afternoon round, he two-putted from 40 feet to save a double bogey and halve the hole.

”It’s funny, I played that hole pretty well all week,” Ernst said. ”But today was a different story. It was a tough hole location with the wind, but I needed to do better.”