Tiger in Training
Philip Francis, 11-year-old phenom
This is an article from the Sept. 18, 2000 issue
First there was Tiger Woods. Then came the Wongluekiet twins. Now
the prodigy du jour is 11-year-old Philip Francis of Scottsdale,
Ariz. The parallels between Philip and Tiger are numerous. Like
Woods, Philip was introduced to the game by his father almost as
soon as Philip learned to walk. Whereas Woods sat in a high chair
watching his father, Earl, hit balls into a net in the family
garage, six-month-old Philip watched from a stroller as his dad,
John, a one handicapper, practiced on the range at Spanish Trail
Golf Club in Las Vegas. Philip also began competing while
shockingly young--he was three, and Woods was two--and has enjoyed
remarkable success, winning 80 of the 177 junior events he has
However, Philip's parents and his coach for the last four years,
Jim Flick, are trying to avoid comparisons with Woods. "Philip
isn't running around trying to be, well, I don't even want to say
his name," says John Francis, a retired corporate pilot who owns
a 7-Eleven in Las Vegas and flies Philip to tournaments in his
Cessna 182. Adds Flick, "I don't want Philip to get too caught up
in trying to live up to somebody else. Jack [Nicklaus] told me,
'Don't try to make him too perfect,' so I'm not. But you couldn't
tell by looking."
Philip, a sixth-grader, is already a minor celebrity. He performs
trick-shot exhibitions at charity outings, has been profiled by
several Arizona TV stations and was recently featured on the Golf
In some ways Philip is more advanced than Woods was at age 11.
The Francises belong to Scottsdale's Desert Mountain Club, where
Philip practices with Tour players such as Tom Lehman and Phil
Mickelson. He has spent an afternoon with Nicklaus ("Your son's a
gem, and don't get in his way," Nicklaus told Francis), and
Sergio Garcia let Philip walk with him during a practice round
for the Williams World Challenge in Scottsdale in January.
Colleges are also hot on Philip's trail. Drake and Oklahoma State
have already sent Philip recruiting letters, and Oklahoma State
alums Bob Tway and Scott Verplank have taken Philip to dinner.
A plus-1.6 handicapper who has made six aces and consistently
breaks par on 5,500-yard courses--his low round is a five-under 67
at Desert Mountain's Renegade Course--Philip could be the most
accomplished 11-year-old in history. Last summer he won the
10-and-under division in the Junior World Championships, tying
the tournament record with a 10-under 152 for 54 holes. This year
he was victorious in the 11-12 age division. Overall, Philip has
taken top honors at 11 of the 16 national events he has entered.
He has won the Doral Publix Junior Classic the last two years and
the Texas-Oklahoma Junior, the world's largest junior tournament,
the last three years.
Philip is only 4'10" and 77 pounds but generates 85 mph in
clubhead speed and hits 220-yard drives. "He understands the
swing as well as a Tour player, and he loves learning," says
Flick. "I teach Philip to kill the people he's playing against.
Intimidation is getting to the 15th hole with your opponent
knowing that you haven't missed a shot."
Philip also plays basketball and football and after school can
often be found with friends in the desert shooting his BB gun and
playing with his slingshot. Golf, though, is his passion. His
dream is to play on the PGA Tour, and he already measures himself
against the pros he sees at Desert Mountain, where he is known as
Flipper. "When I tell them how I'm doing," says Philip, "they
always say, 'You're way ahead of me.'"
OD'd on Instruction
Paralysis by Overanalysis
One would think that two 60-minute doses of top-notch instruction
every week would cure whatever ails your game. But in Peter
Kessler's case, that much time on the lesson tee has been a
prescription for disaster. Kessler, the 48-year-old host of the
Golf Channel's Golf Academy Live, has done about 500 of the
shows--he estimates he has heard more than 30,000 tips--over the
last five years. During that span his handicap has tripled, from
3 to 9.
"When I played my best golf, my sole thought was to aim it a
little left and let the ball fade toward the target," says
Kessler, who won the club championship at the La Costa Resort and
Spa when he was 24. "But gradually, day by day, drop by drop and
tip by tip, I've turned into a player who becomes puzzled about
which muscles move the club away from the ball, and how in the
world I can get it airborne."
Kessler thinks he's still a good putter because "we hardly have
any shows on putting." Only half in jest he says he intends to
retain his skill on the greens by "doing everything in my power"
to stay away from regular Golf Channel contributor Dave Pelz,
whose specialty is the short game.
Kessler claims that he absorbed the excess information "by
osmosis. When the instructor is talking, I concentrate as hard as
I can so I can ask appropriate questions. The result is that the
stuff stays in my head, ready to pop up when I'm over the ball
and hear someone say, 'Look, it's the Golf Channel guy. Let's see
how good he hits it.'"
Should a golfer watch Golf Academy Live? "Yes," says Kessler,
laughing, "but selectively. People should watch for instructors
whose stuff is compatible with their game. Even incompatible
theories might have one thing you can apply to yourself. Thing
is, viewers can occasionally tune out. I don't have that luxury."
This year Tiger Woods has played the best golf ever seen, but he
hasn't had the greatest season in the game's history. Unless he
shoots a 58 in one of his few remaining tournaments, Woods's 2000
still won't surpass Byron Nelson's suddenly underrated 1945: 18
wins--11 of them in a row--seven seconds, 19 consecutive rounds
under 70 and a victory in the only major held that year, the PGA
What do these players have in common?
They're the only men to win 10 or more Tour events in a year.
Hogan won 13 in 1946 and 10 in '48, Nelson took 18 in '45, and
Snead had 11 victories in '50.
Whom should CBS hire to replace Ken Venturi, who is retiring
after this season?
--Based on 9,311 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Should golf be an Olympic sport? Vote at
NICKNAMES for TIGER WOODS
Big Occasion Cablinasian, Eldrick of Windermere, History, Major
Major, Money, Sam, T, the Chosen One, the Man, the Show, the
Striped One, the Terminator, the Universal Child, the Zone, Urkel.
Woods leads the Tour in scoring by 1.7 strokes for two reasons:
He hits the most greens in regulation (GIR), and he's also No. 1
in putts per GIR. Here are the Tour's best in GIR and how they
rank in putts per GIR and scoring average.
GIR PPGIR Scoring Avg.
1 Tiger Woods 1 1
2 Kenny Perry 79 25
3 Joe Durant 145 71
4 David Duval 59 5
5 Glen Hnatiuk 145 120
Ryan FitzGerald, Norton, Mass.
Ryan, 17, a 12 handicapper, aced the 302-yard par-4 4th at the
Olde Scotland Links in Bridgewater during a round of 22-over 94.
Ryan's drive landed on the front of the green and rolled 30 feet
into the cup. A senior at Coyle and Cassidy High, Ryan is
co-captain of the baseball and hockey teams but doesn't play on
the golf team.
Libby Smith, Essex Junction, Vt.
Smith, 20, successfully defended her title at the Vermont
Amateur, shooting a three-under 215 for a six-shot victory over
Margie Mather of Mount Anthony. A junior at Vermont, Smith is a
co-captain and point guard on the basketball team. A member of
the men's golf team, she is the only woman playing Division I
Wayne DeFrancesco, Columbia, Md.
DeFrancesco, 43, an assistant at Woodholme Country Club in
Pikesville, took the Middle Atlantic PGA section championship,
an event for club pros from Maryland, Virginia and Washington,
D.C. DeFrancesco, a three-time Middle Atlantic PGA player of the
year, beat Dirk Schultz of Beaver Creek Country Club in
Hagerstown, Md., by a shot.
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.
Their Best Shots
Connoisseurs of the game have always swooned over a particular
player's mastery of a certain type of shot. For example, the
cognoscenti greatly admired Jack Nicklaus's ability to hit a
high, soft-landing one-iron. Nowadays, however, that sort of
appreciation has been overwhelmed by the virtuosity of Tiger
Woods, who has all the shots. Therefore, here is a paean to the
shots that have lost their cachet.
BRUCE LIETZKE'S DRIVES His high fade remains one of the game's
most automatic shots. Lietzke, 49, almost never practices, yet he
is one of the longest and most accurate drivers on Tour.
JESPER PARNEVIK'S FIVE-WOODS Parnevik loves working the ball, and
this is his favorite club for slicing, dicing and pureeing. If
there were a one-club tournament, Parnevik and his five-wood
would be the favorite.
SANDY LYLE'S ONE-IRONS He crushes them off the tee with a natural
fade and during his peak in the late 1980s gave up nothing to
players hitting driver. Some say Lyle's skill with his one-iron
made the difference in Europe's win in the '87 Ryder Cup.
MARK MCCUMBER'S IRON SHOTS FROM THE ROUGH With a steep downswing,
an open stance that produced a fade and Popeye-like forearms that
kept the club from turning over, McCumber was even better than
Nicklaus from heavy bermuda.
FRED COUPLES'S GEARED-DOWN IRON SHOTS Couples can change speeds
like Pedro Martinez, and his 120-yard eight-irons have almost no
spin and land dead, prompting others to call the shot a drop
fade, a parachute or, simply, splat.
PAUL AZINGER'S PUNCHED WEDGES Classic old-school shots from 100
yards, they are loaded with backspin and are deadly accurate.
Azinger (above) uses a compact backswing and delivers a sharply
descending blow. His hands are well ahead of the ball on impact,
and he has an abbreviated finish.
PHIL MICKELSON'S CHIPS Everyone identifies Mickelson with the
flop shot, but he's even better when he keeps the ball closer to
the ground around the green. When precise contact is mandatory,
as it was on Pinehurst's tight turf during the '99 U.S. Open,
he's the best.
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL'S CLUTCH PUTTS Olazabal has the best
combination of great stroke and competitive heart in the game.
He's impeccable from within six feet, as his nervy downhiller for
birdie at 16 during the '99 Masters exemplified.
Golf Plus will next appear in the Oct. 2 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.