The USGA has been waiting, patiently, for someone to break away from the pack of suspects and grab a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team that travels to Scotland in September.
The wait is over. Corbin Mills, pack your bags and get a passport.
Two weeks ago, Mills, 21, was just another college golfer playing the American summer amateur circuit. Today, he is a USGA champion, winner of another elite amateur event, and likely ticketed for The Masters next spring.
What Mills has accomplished in the last 14 days is most impressive. He was the stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Public Links Championship at Bandon Dunes; his 4-under- par 67 on Old Macdonald was the low round of the championship. And despite a nagging ear infection and pink eye, he won six matches to claim the title, becoming just the first player since 2000 in to win both the qualifying medal and the championship.
EExhausted, Mills then flew across country to compete at The Players Amateur at Belfair GC in South Carolina.
Against a deep field, he fashioned a wire-to-wire job, shooting 12-under-par 276 to win by a shot and claim his second big win in as many weeks. Two tournament victories, on opposite sides of the country, under differing formats, on different kinds of golf courses. Captain Jim Holtgrieve is going to love this kid.
So who is Corbin Mills?
He is a junior at Clemson who spent part of his youth in Italy. Stocky and long off the tee, he had a solid but not spectacular AJGA record before enrolling at Clemson, where the same story is true: solid, but not spectacular. Until recently.
At Belfair, he showed the kind of tenacity on the back nine Holtgrieve covets. After faltering with four bogeys in the first 10 holes of the final round, which let a bunch of guys back into the game, Mills answered by birdieing four of his final six holes to escape with the win. That kind of finish translates well into the Walker Cup match-play format.
So hwhat oes the Walker Cup team look like today, with just weeks to go before the USGA announces its first wave of selections?
Patrick Cantlay and Peter Uihlein, Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, have been a lock all along. Russell Henley sewed up his spot when he won a Nationwide Tour event this spring and then made the cut at the U.S. Open.
Andrew Yun’s performance at the Palmer Cup, similar in format to the Walker Cup, demonstrated that his outstanding college season was not a fluke. He has nailed down a berth.
Mid-Amateur Nathan Smith won at Sunnehanna, virtually guaranteeing him a return to Walker Cup competition. And I still like U. S. Amateur runner-up David Chung on the squad, despite his struggles. His is the most uncertain spot at the moment.
I have Jones Cup and NCAA Championship winner John Peterson making the team. The NCAA Individual Championship is not nearly as important as it once was, but most of the elite amateurs were there, and Peterson posted the lowest 54-hole score. He also advanced to match play at the Publinx.
Add Mills to the list, and that’s eight of a 10-man squad headed to Royal Aberdeen to take on Great Britain and Ireland.
A host of guys are playing for the other two spots. One of them, Scott Langley, is a head scratcher. Many thought he was a shoo-in for the team, but he has been invisible since the NCAA’ where he was erratic.
Instead of appearing at The Players Amateur last week, he took a spot in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, where he missed the cut. He also withdrew from the Southern Amateur this week.
Of the original 16-man practice squad the USGA assembled in January, I have six on the team. Two players (Patrick Reed and Bud Cauley) passed on the opportunity and turned pro. That leaves eight of the original sixteen still battling. Nobody has broken out of the pack and some new names have stepped up and garnered consideration, like Mills, Bank Vongvanij, James White and Chris Williams, who won at Sahalee last week and who also had a good Palmer Cup outing.
Vongvanij and White are names to keep an eye on. Vongvanij had an outstanding Palmer Cup, and he has top-five finishes at the St. Petersburg Invitational and the Northeast. White was has posted three top-10 finishes at Sunnehanna, the Northeast, and at The Players Amateur.
Time is of the essence right now. Just four weeks of competitive golf remain before the USGA announces seven or eight team members. And if any of the names I have on the team win the Southern, Porter Cup, Pacific Coast Amateur or Western Am, the road becomes a bit easier for a hopeful.