Jon Mills doesn’t boast. He doesn’t have a cocky demeanor. And when he speaks of his past success as a professional golfer, he does so modestly.
But inside the fire still burns. There is confidence, and with it a will to keep plugging away after a rough couple years that have cut down his eligibility to compete on the Web.com Tour, formerly the Nationwide Tour.
“I always say, if it gets to the point where I don’t feel like my game’s good enough, then …” Mills said before trailing off and switching gears, seemingly finding assurance mid-
sentence. “I’m a pretty realistic person, and right now I am definitely good enough to still be out there and still be on the tour.”
An Indiana resident who grew up in Ontario, Canada, Mills has provisional status on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s minor league, for the second straight year. It’s a difficult existence for a golfer, stepping into tournaments only when enough players with higher priority turn down the invitation. It’s not much of a way to make money — and moving up on the money list is what Mills needs to do in order to improve his status.
It’s an uphill battle, but one Mills remains willing to fight.
“I think, ultimately, it comes down to your own abilities and knowing that you’re good enough to make it at this tour,” the 35-year-old said. “A lot of it, too, is just confidence, and that’s the way golf is. There are ups and downs in everyone’s career. You’ve just got to be patient and keep working at it.”
And confidence is not something Mills lacks. Where others might see more missed cuts and fewer opportunities over the last couple years, Mills sees a player who was on the cusp on joining the PGA Tour full-time for the 2011 season, a player that was on the big tour in 2006 and 2008 and has amassed 31 top-10 finishes and two victories in his Web.com Tour career.
“Even looking back to last year, there were times,” he said.
“I qualified for two PGA Tour events (The Greenbrier Classic and the RBC Canadian Open), and the year before, I played in the U.S. Open. So there are a lot of good things. Even at the start of (last) year, in the first five events on the Web.com, at two different times I was in the lead during a tournament. So obviously it’s there. It’s just putting everything together and getting comfortable out there and all the stuff that comes with that. I’ve gotten experience in those situations, and it’s nice to get back in there and feel the pressure.”
After flirting with a top-25 spot on the money list — and PGA Tour card for the following season — Mills finished 33rd on the then-Nationwide Tour in 2010. He slipped to 71st in 2011 and lost his full-time status on the tour for 2012. Last year he made it into just seven Web.com Tour events, making the cut in only two and failing to break the top 50 either time.
Mills has guaranteed spots this year in the Brazil Classic, April 4 through 7, and the BMW Charity Pro-Am, May 16 through 19, in South Carolina. Should he play well and earn money, he’ll move up the priority list and get into more tournaments throughout the season.
Another option Mills has in the Canadian Tour, which he said he could join for its tournament season, which starts in June, if he doesn’t make up ground in the Web.com.
“It’s a tough situation,” he said. “You don’t know where you’re going to play, and you might find out last second that you’re getting into an event. Then you’ve got to be ready for that. I didn’t play in many events, as well, so then you get into one and you’re a little rusty. The last couple years, trying to find sponsorships is tough, too. Over the last five or six years, the Web.com money that you get through sponsorships has gone down and is tough to find. It’s kind of like that all over the whole golfing world, unless you’re on the PGA Tour. It’s a new stage for me.”
It all becomes motivation for Mills to play better and get out of the hole.
“There are a lot of other things (for motivation), too,” Mills said. “This past year, at the Canadian Open, it was my first year I didn’t get an exemption into it. I ended up Monday-qualifying for it, but they’re starting to give (exemptions) to the younger, up-and-coming Canadians. You have stuff like that where you’re not considered one of the young talents coming out of Canada. Maybe I used to be. You’re starting to get bypassed, and it comes to proving all those guys wrong, proving sponsors that gave up on you or that passed up on helping me out and stuff like that. I can use all that stuff as ammunition to motivate myself to play good golf and get back to where I was.”