BANDON, Ore.—Corbin Mills says he doesn't have a particularly good track record in match-play events and his putting has held him back from breaking out in college golf. You wouldn't know either of these to be the case, however, by the way the rising Clemson junior has played at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
After claiming medalist honors and advancing out of stroke-play qualifying for the first time in three USGA events, the 21-year-old from Easley, S.C., has found a comfort zone around the links courses at Bandon Dunes Resort. During Thursday's play at Old Macdonald GC, Mills knocked off recent NCAA champion John Peterson, 1 up, then beat Oklahoma State's__Talor Gooch__, 4 and 2, to reach Friday's quarterfinal round. Since the end of the college season, Mills says he's made a conscious effort to work on his putting. "I've always been a really good ball striker," Mills said, "but I think to take it up a notch, the putter has got to get better."
There's not been any change in technique, according to Mills, but simply more time devoted to working on feel on the greens, with some healthy encouragement from Clemson assistant coach Jordan Byrd.
The work paid off in the match with Gooch, as Mills managed to maintain control of the match by holing several par saving putts from the six-to-10 foot range. "This morning I wasn't very aggressive with those putts," Mills said. "I told myself to be aggressive and not be afraid to be long."
The turning point of Mills match with Gooch came on the 14th hole, Mills holding a 2-up edge but having hit his tee shot right into a waste bunker while Gooch was in the fairway less than 100 yards from the hole. In a classic match-play reversal, Mills hit his approach to eight feet while Gooch's approach spun off the front of the green and left him a third shot of almost the same length. Gooch's third shot went over the green and when his par-saving chip rolled by the cup, he conceded the hole to Mills.
"I played really well this afternoon and I feel good about my game," Mills said. "I'm hoping to keep it going."
Mills will face Andrew Vijarro in the quarterfinals, Vijarro the lone remaining Oregon native in the championship. The Bend, Ore., product beat Robert Hoadley, 2 and 1, in the third round. Vijarro says that while he might be from in state, he doesn't necessarily have an advantage on the field at Bandon Dunes, seeing that he had never played the Old Macdonald course prior to this week.
While Vijarro is the only player left from Oregon, but he's not the only University of Oregon golfer still in the field.Daniel Miernicki joins Vijarro after taking out Jack Schultz in the third round, 4 and 3. Miernicki was a member of the U.S. squad that claimed the Palmer Cup earlier this month, honing his match-play skills at a opportune time.
Another school boasts two players in the APL's final eight, with San Diego State's J.J. Spaun and Todd Baek winding their way through the match-play bracket. Baek beat T.J. Howe, 3 and 1, in the third round while Spaun defeated__Herbie Aikens__, the lone remaining working stiff in the field, 3 and 2.
Aikens, a 29-year-old from Pembroke, Mass., admitted to getting a little fatigued after four days of competition. "I'm not used to playing a round and then going to the practice range afterward," said the owner of LIghthouse Electrical Contracting, the business he started 10 years ago, his logo proudly displayed on his golf bag. "But you see all these guys doing that so you feel like you have to keep up."
"This was great because playing a course like this against competition like this, it really exposes the parts of your game that need work," Aikens added. "It's something that I hope I can build on and use to improve my game."
__U.S. AMATEUR PUBLIC LINKS CHAMPIONSHIP
Friday Quarterfinals (all times PDT)
8:10 a.m.—Corbin Mills, Easley, S.C. vs. Andrew Vijarro, Bend, Ore.
8:20 a.m.—Harris English, Thomasville, Ga. vs. J.J. Spaun, Los Angeles
8:30 a.m.—Jonathan Randolph, Brandon, Miss. vs. Todd Baek, San Diego
8:40 a.m.—Derek Ernst, Clovis, Calif. vs. Daniel Miernicki, Santee, Calif.