Mills can breathe easier

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

There are 17 Canadians still in the hunt for their PGA Tour privileges as the second stage of qualifying begins today but, for a change, Jon Mills is not one of them.

Instead, at a time when he is usually grinding for his golf future, Mills and his wife Megan spent last night at the Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre before heading back to their home in Indiana, Pa., where Mills will do ... well, pretty much nothing for the next few weeks.

Mills did his grinding all summer long to finish fifth on the Nationwide Tour money list and thus became one of 19 Nationwide players to earn his card early.

Now he's free to prepare himself both physically and mentally for his first shot at golf's big league which begins early in January.

Over the next month or so, Mills will play a little golf at his home course near Pittsburgh, practice at a heated range nearby, and relax. A couple of days after Christmas, he'll head to Phoenix for a week of more intense preparation, then it's on the Hawaii for the Sony Open, which begins on Jan. 12.

"Early in the year, it can be such an advantage if you play well," said Mills, whose position on the PGA priority list is high enough that he should be able to draw into most tournaments.

"I just want to get out there, play as many tournaments as I can and prove myself at that level. If I do that, then a few years down the road, I can be in a position to pick and choose."

Mills won once on the Nationwide Tour last season and finished in the top 10 eight other times, collecting $325,000 US in the process. He's had a chance to pick the brains of a few veteran professionals about how best to approach his first year on the big Tour.

"One guy I talked to was Chip Beck, who told me that it's important to realize, right from the start, that you deserve to be there," said Mills. "And I've heard from Mike (Weir) and others that it's important to continue to do the things that got you there. That includes using equipment you're comfortable with."

During this past season, Mills improved his putting statistics by about one putt per round. It doesn't sound like much but, in the end, it probably made the difference between earning his card during the summer and having to return to Q-School this fall. Now, as he gets himself organized for the PGA Tour, Mills -- ranked No. 376 in the world -- isn't planning to make any major changes. He's going to spend his practice time fine-tuning the tools he has.

"I haven't done any goal-setting yet," he said. "Though I've given it some thought. There's a lot to consider and, knowing myself, I'll probably put a lot of pressure on myself."

Meanwhile he'll be watching the scores as the qualifying tournament moves through the second stage through to the final in Florida during early December.

David Hearn, who finished 196th on the money list ($197,000) in his first season on the PGA Tour is trying to qualify again. He and Hamilton resident and Australian native Ben Ferguson will be in the field today at Kingwood, Tex. Derek Gillespie is among a group of Canadians teeing it up at McKinney, Tex.

OTHERS NOT SO LUCKY

Glen Hnatiuk, whose medical exemption following wrist surgery has run out, will attempt to qualify for the final stage along with David Morland IV at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City, Fla.

Ten more Canadians, including Chris Baryla, Jim Rutledge, Brian McCann, Brad Fritsch, Lindsay Bernakevich, Wes Heffernan and Mike Mezei will compete in various second-stage tournaments next week.

Many of those names have learned the hard way that, as difficult as it is to earn a PGA Tour card, it's that much more difficult to hold onto it. Mills understands that and relishes the challenge.

"I know how difficult it's going to be," he said. "But I think I'm ready."


Videos

Photos