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.''