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 windswept 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."
The six-day tournament is limited to players who don't hold privileges at any course that doesn't extend playing privileges to the general public.
"I'm exhausted," Mills said. "I was waiting to collapse with four holes to play. My legs are killing me, my feet are killing me. I mean, it feels like I've had such a tough match with everybody, so I'm just mentally drained, physically drained. It's a lot of golf you played in a short period of time. You went from your practice rounds to Monday, Tuesday's 18 holes and then it is just crammed."