Mills aims to skip qualifying school

IAN HUTCHINSON

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

It isn't only kids who can do without all the back-to-school buzz that goes on this time of year.

Belleville's Jon Mills would also prefer skipping school, but in his case, we're not talking homework and teachers' dirty looks. The long grind of various stages of PGA Tour qualifying school with the next step in his career riding on the outcome is what Mills would like to blow off.

In order to do that, Mills has to maintain the pace that has him 24th on the Nationwide Tour money list, a position that would automatically move him ahead to the next grade of competition. With the top 25 on the money list getting their PGA Tour cards, Mills is on the bubble and isn't taking anything for granted.

"You can't think about it because it's coming to that point where you have to at least schedule it and send in your forms for Q-school, just in case," said Mills, 29, who enjoyed the Labour Day weekend off, along with the rest of the Nationwide Tour.

Mills has been successful in skipping school in the past. Two years ago, he won the now-dormant Canadian PGA Championship at Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, a title that all but clinched his PGA Tour card before he made it official by finishing fifth on the money list that year.

Making just six cuts, as Mills did in '06, generally gets a guy put back from golf's highest level, but his disappointment at returning to the Nationwide Tour this year apparently isn't standing in the way of his efforts to return to the PGA Tour.

"I feel like my game's really consistent right now," he said. "I'm hitting a ton of greens -- it's pretty tough to make a lot of mistakes if you're hitting about every green."

Mills hasn't been as spectacular as when he won the Canadian PGA in 2005, but he has been grinding it out admirably with five top-10s finishes. He had a particularly hot hand in June and July, forcing him to make a difficult decision. There were some raised eyebrows when Mills wasn't in the field at the Canadian Open.

The way he figured though, it was best to try to improve his position on the Nationwide Tour by playing in the Cox Classic at Champion Run in Omaha, Neb., where he tied for 17th while the Open was going on at Angus Glen.

"Being there, I could have stayed with my parents. I felt like I needed to play Omaha though. It's one that I've done well at and I really enjoy the golf course and play well there," he said.

"It was tough. I love playing (the Open). I love being around home and, obviously, that's one of the biggest events of the year for me. Looking back now, I played well in Omaha and it definitely helped me move up on the money list, so I think I made the right decision."

It was a wise decision for the long term. It would be sweet returning to the next year's Open at Glen Abbey as a full-fledged member of the PGA Tour, but to do that, he now has to focus on the next two months.

There are eight tournaments left on the Nationwide Tour schedule, beginning with this week's Utah EnergySolutions Championship and ending with the Tour Championship, Nov. 1-4 in California.

While Mills is in the best position among Canadians on the Nationwide Tour, he knows from his own experience how quickly things can change with a win or a high finish, so Brantford's David Hearn, sitting back in 44th place, is capable of a quick jump up the money list, according to Mills.

IN A GOOD POSITION

"He's at the point where, one good week, he passes me and he passes a bunch of guys. He's in a good position," Mills said.

"He's throwing up some numbers early in tournaments. If he keeps that up, he's going to win. From his standpoint, he might be a little discouraged, but you keep doing that, it's going to pay off."

The stats back up that observation. Hearn shot an impressive 65 in the first round of the Canadian Open, but finished with a trio of 73s. Back on the Nationwide Tour the following week, he shot rounds of 68-65-67, with a third round 70 getting in the way. If he somehow strings four together, victory may be at hand.

A lot can happen over the next two months for Mills, Hearn and Aurora's David Morland, who is in 48th place on the money list. Their report cards are showing potential, but their final grades are not in yet.


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