Reigning U.S. Junior Champion Francis Receives PGA Tour Exemptions

January 3, 2007

By Russ Christ

Scottsdale, Ariz. - The holidays, and the PGA Tour, arrived 10 days early for 2006 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Philip Francis.

The 18 year old has been deciding whether to accept sponsor's exemptions that will allow him to compete in two, and possibly three, PGA Tour events in 2007.  Two offers have been confirmed; the third is a verbal invitation that is likely to become official this month.

Francis, who signed a letter of intent in November to play at UCLA this fall, is expected to compete in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis (May 25-28). A second sponsor's exemption arrived Dec. 15 via fax from representatives of the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. That Tour event, formerly known as the Greater Milwaukee Open, is July 27-30.

Neither of those dates would conflict with Francis' participation in the U.S. Amateur (Aug. 20-26) at The Olympic Club, where he is exempt from qualifying based on his Junior Amateur victory.

"I'm excited," said Francis, who also is exempt from U.S. Open local qualifying the next three years provided he remains an amateur. "I was hoping to get one. If everything works out this is going to make next year real exciting. I'm looking forward to it."

U.S. Junior champion Philip Francis of Scottsdale, Ariz., will get his chance to play against the PGA Tour's best a couple of times this year on sponsor's exemptions. (USGA Photo Archives)

Francis, the 2006 American Junior Golf Association's Rolex Player of the Year, is still hoping to secure an exemption into the FBR Open, held in his hometown of Scottsdale and played at the Tournament Players Club. In recent years he has just narrowly missed Monday qualifying for the event.

FBR Open Tournament Chairman Pat McGinley announced Dec. 5 that crowd favorite John Daly received the first sponsor's exemption for the 2007 FBR Open.

"We have received a number of letters from very qualified individuals," said McGinley. "Mr. Francis is obviously a very talented player."

He said the Thunderbirds, who oversee the running of the tournament, will evaluate players over the next month.

While the three Tour events Francis could play in have a combined purse of $13.2 million, the potential to cash a check won't make him consider turning professional early. He's not in a rush.

Francis stills plans to matriculate at UCLA unless he makes major headlines. "I'll stay amateur," said Francis, "except maybe if I win one of them."

Francis won five national junior golf events in 2006, including two AJGA majors (Rolex Tournament of Champions and Thunderbird Invitational) and the U.S. Junior, and had five more top-10 finishes.

Since he began competing at the age of 4, he has won an astonishing 147 tournaments.

His decision to sign with UCLA, in part, was to be near instructor Jim Flick, who relocated from Scottsdale to Carlsbad, Calif., which is about a two-hour drive south from Westwood. Flick has been Francis' instructor for the past 11 years at Desert Mountain.

But of all of Francis' victories, the most important one, he admitted, was the U.S. Junior at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) Golf Club last July, when he defeated 15-year-old Richard Lee of Chandler, Ariz., 3 and 2, in the 36-hole championship match.

Francis posted rounds of 68-69-137 during stroke play qualifying before winning six consecutive matches, including a quarterfinal decision over 2004 Junior champion Sihwan Kim.

His junior golf career ended last month in a quarterfinal defeat to fellow AJGA All-American Rickie Fowler at the AJGA's Polo Junior Classic at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga.

Now, the three-time AJGA All-American is prepared to enter the next stage of his career.

The PGA Tour exemptions illustrate he's ready for a new challenge.

Russ Christ is a newspaper reporter based in Scottsdale, Ariz.


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