“After seven birdies on a steamy Saturday in
small-town America, Philip Francis may have
regained his status as a can’t-miss kid.
Francis, a UCLA sophomore, shot a bogey-
free 64 in the third round of the PGA Tour’s
John Deere Classic; the 19-year-old was tied
for 11th with one round remaining, just four
shots out of the lead.”
Covering the Game
Russ Christ, a Phoenix-based media executive who owns his own
PR firm, has been a member of the Golf Writer’s Association of
America since 1998. He began covering Philip Francis when the
young golfer was a 12-year-old prodigy from Scottsdale. The first
story, titled “Golf’s Next Tiger?” appeared in Athlon Sports.
Over the last 10 years Russ has contributed numerous articles to
several publications on Francis, including the Arizona Republic,
Scottsdale Republic, Golfweek, www.usga.org, Arizona, The State
of Golf and Scottsdale Life.
Francis, one of the top-ranked junior golfers in the class of 2007,
won more than 140 junior events, including the 2006 U.S. Junior
Amateur at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. He also won the 2006
Rolex Tournament of Champions and was voted the 2006
American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year after he won
four other AJGA events. Francis, ranked No.1 among U.S. junior
players for 65 straight weeks, was also a four-time winner of the
Callaway Junior World tournament (1999-2002).
As of February 2009 Philip was a sophomore at UCLA, the next
step to reaching his career goal of winning on the PGA TOUR.
Francis forges ahead at John Deere
By SEAN MARTIN
SILVIS, Ill. – After seven birdies on a steamy Saturday in small-town America, Philip Francis may have regained his status as a can’t-miss kid. Francis, a UCLA sophomore, shot a
bogey-free 64 in the third round of the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic; the 19-year-old was tied for 11th with one round remaining, just four shots out of the lead.
His final-round 75 in windy conditions at TPC Deere Run dropped him to T-34 at 7-under 277, but the tournament was still a step in the right direction for the former AJGA player of
the year. “Coming through this week I was confident. I was putting well, hitting the ball well, worked on some things with my swing,” Francis said. “I knew if I put some things
together and managed my game well I could do pretty well and I did.
“Definitely after 67 and 64 out here, that gives me some confidence. A few more years of maturing and getting older and physically stronger and everything else, you know, I should
– you know, I love to be out here.”
USC junior Jamie Lovemark, the 2007 NCAA champion, also made the cut, finishing T-77 after a final-round 77; he opened the tournament with rounds of 70 and 66.
Francis watched the movie “Get Smart” during the week, an appropriate title considering he credited increased maturity and improved course management to his good play this
week. “He’s picking and choosing his battles better,” his father, John Francis, said. “When you’re 17, 18, you don’t see any downside. He’s weighing things out a little bit better now.”
Next week will mark the two-year anniversary of his victory at the U.S. Junior Amateur. He holed out a gap wedge early on that final day outside San Diego, and punctuated the
victory with a 6-iron that one-hopped off the flagstick.
It was his third major junior victory in a four-month span. Big things were expected out of the skinny kid from Scottsdale.
But then things started to go south. He took his game to the PGA Tour last summer, and fell flat.
Francis was 23 over par in three events, missing the cut in Memphis, Moline and Milwaukee. He finished outside the top 50 in the Northeast Amateur and Western Amateur. Francis,
the highest-profile recruit in UCLA history, didn’t make the team’s starting lineup for its first event.
Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler won two prestigious amateur events that summer and made the U.S. Walker Cup team, replacing Francis at the head of their class.
“I had 7, 8, 9 months where I didn’t play nearly as well as I would’ve liked,” he said. “Golf is a game of ups and downs. I’ve had it real good obviously the first 19 years of my life,
since being 10 and winning Junior World. It’s just a constant learning process. I wasn’t worried.”
He did admit having some difficulty adjusting to the move from Scottsdale to Los Angeles. He grew up at Desert Mountain Golf Club, where he had six golf courses within a couple
miles from his home. Francis also went from being home-schooled to one of the country’s top academic institutions.
“A lot of freshmen, they have the same problem, and others don’t,” Francis said. “It was tough adjusting to the L.A.-type lifestyle with traffic and not having the same facilities. In the
end, it’ll be good for me because I have to get just as much done with not as much given to me.”
Things have slowly been turning around. Francis ended the season No. 82 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He finished 33rd at the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship
to help UCLA win the team title.
It was a good freshman year, but still substandard.
“He needed a little egg on his face,” John Francis said. “He got enough of it. But I’m just really proud of him that he’s never really backed off. Once things weren’t going really well,
he stuck right with it and grinded it out and improved on the areas he needed to improve on. He took responsibility.” In his only competitive start since the NCAA Championship,
Francis finished 10th at the prestigious Northeast Amateur. A victory this week is unlikely. Four shots is a lot to make up on a course that is yielding birdies in bunches. He’d have to
leapfrog 10 players, including Kenny Perry, the planet’s hottest golfer.
Francis, who’ll play Sunday in the sixth-to-last group with Woody Austin, could earn a spot in the British Open if he finishes in the top 5 and is the highest finisher not already exempt
for the event. “It’s rewarding ... to see him take one step backward, but two steps forward,” John Francis said. “As long as he keeps really sucking up the bad days and working on
them, he’s going to be alright.”
Sean Martin is a Golfweek assistant editor.