The senior will compete in his final Big Ten Championship this weekend, where he hopes to win the tournament that has intrigued him his whole career at IU.
Mills has competed in every tournament since first arriving on campus in 2010, an accomplishment few players under IU Coach Mike Mayer have done. But Mills’ Hoosier golfing experience started long before that.
Ranked the top Indiana junior golfer in his class, Mills was on Mayer’s radar before even starting high school.
“I went to a camp in Bloomington as a little kid and that’s where we first met,” Mills said. “He really started recruiting me in eighth grade when I would play tournaments at the course here all the time.”
Mayer said the reason he was drawn to Mills was his passion for the game.
“There was something different about him than most recruits,” Mayer said. “I could just sense and tell that he wanted to play. I can’t sense that in everybody but I sure sensed it very early on in David Mills.”
When the time to make a college decision came, Mills said he knew IU was the place for him. He had seen what Mayer did with IU golf legend Jeff Overton, who went to the same high school as Mills. Mills viewed IU as a place he could further develop his golf game.
He marched through his freshman year with the second-lowest freshman scoring average in school history.
“After David’s freshman year I knew I had somebody who was determined, passionate and talented,” Mayer said. “I had somebody who wanted to do it all.”
However, when it came time for his first Big Ten Championship, Mills struggled. A strong finish of 73 was too late to recover from opening rounds of 78-80-80.
IU finished fifth.
But Mills was still young, and the team was returning its top five players the next year. Another successful season saw Mills lower his scoring average and post five top-10 finishes.
It was once again time for the Big Ten Championship, and the Hoosiers were ready. The tournament would be at the French Lick Resort’s Pete Dye Course, a course Mills was familiar with.
After three rounds, the Hoosiers were seven strokes back of tournament leader Illinois. IU then shot the lowest round of the tournament by any team.
But, it wasn’t enough. Illinois held off the Hoosiers and won by three strokes.
“We nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback,” Mayer said.
Mills finished fourth. And at one point, IU was up by four shots, only to see the lead slip away.
“It was heartbreaking,” Mills said. “To come up just a little bit short is hard, but it was a huge team effort. I felt like that was a point in time where I played my best though, and I really enjoyed it.”
Mills was named First Team All-Big Ten after that season, and his finish in the conference championship earned him a place on the All-Championship Team.
Heading into Mills’ junior year, expectations were high for the now-seasoned golfer. Mills still played in every tournament for the Hoosiers, but he took a step back in scoring average over the course of the season.
When it came time to return to French Lick for the Big Ten Championship, Mills was eager to succeed.
Mills shot consistent rounds of 74-74-74-73 (295) to lead the team and tie for eighth individually.
But it still wasn’t enough. IU’s supporting cast just wasn’t strong enough to keep up with the Big Ten leaders, and they finished in a tie for fourth.
When his senior season began, Mills said he saw himself as a leader of an inexperienced Hoosier team. Entering the year, he had played more collegiate rounds than the rest of the team combined.
But Mills learned just because the team hadn’t proved itself, didn’t mean the players needed his guidance.
“I just don’t think they need too much leadership,” Mills said. “They all know what they’re doing out there and don’t need a kick in the butt too often.”
Each golfer on the team has shown the ability to shoot low rounds, just not together. When freshman Andrew Havill tied for seventh at the Snowman Getaway in February, the rest of the team struggled.
The same goes for freshman Will Seger at the Boilermaker Invitational two weekends ago. While he tied for 11th, three other IU golfers finished ranked in the fifties or worse individually.
“That’s something we’ve definitely been lacking this season,” Seger said. “I think we’ll be ready this time, and we can count on all five guys instead of just two or three.”
During the Big Ten tournament this weekend, the Hoosiers have more at stake this time as well.
“As it is right now, we’re not going to make regionals unless we win this tournament,” Seger said. “So our goal is definitely to win the tournament.”
Mills has proven he’s capable of excelling in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’ll be asked to do that one more time this weekend.
“For David to have the kind of career he’s had is already a hell of an accomplishment,” Mayer said. “This weekend, we need him one more time. And I think he can do it. He likes the golf course, he believes in the golf course. I think he can win this championship.”
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