Golfing celebs are par for our courses
By Dave Donelson Published April 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM
Making Her Mark on Tour
Rookie tournament entrant Meaghan Francella’s LPGA win is a family affair
Meaghan Francella’s professional golf career has a storybook beginning: in just her third tournament as an exempt player on the LPGA tour, she stared down the best female golfer in the world, Annika Sorenstam, in a sudden-death playoff. In the gallery was her father, Joe, who, three years earlier, had survived a liver transplant, dreaming of the day he would see his daughter lift the winner’s trophy over her head. For 24-year-old Meaghan, a Port Chester native, the win began a career full of promise; for 54-year-old Joe and his wife, Meaghan's mother Denise, it capped 20 years of struggle and sacrifice.
Meaghan’s nail-biting win came at the MasterCard International Classic in Mexico City in March. Joe followed her every swing, relaying constant reports by phone to her mother, a physical education teacher at the Rye Country Day, who was then home in Port Chester. They had put a sawed-off club in Meaghan’s hands at the age of four and made practice on public courses and local driving ranges a family affair. The sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup for the win was particularly sweet to Joe, who worked three jobs, including caddying at Willow Ridge Country Club, to finance his daughter’s amateur career after selling his small liquor store in Greenwich. Less than three years ago, during Meaghan’s senior year in college, he underwent the liver transplant.
Getting to the LPGA tour is tough, especially when your family can’t afford a country-club lifestyle, year-round golf camps, and $200-an-hour lessons. While her parents were working multiple jobs, Meaghan worked too, first in the pro shop at Willow Ridge and then at Westchester Country Club, where she bartered her labor for lessons and practice privileges and studied the game with Tom Patri. She graduated from the School of the Holy Child in Rye, went to the University of Memphis for two years, then transferred to the University of North Carolina, where she was the 2003 Atlantic Coast Conference individual champion. She made NCAA First-Team All-American in 2004 and graduated from UNC with a degree in communications in 2005. Francella competed in three LPGA Tour events in 2006 as a non-exempt member and finished fifth on the Duramed Futures Tour money list to earn exempt status for the 2007 LPGA season.
Winning on the LPGA tour is even tougher, though, especially when you’re up against the best players in the game as Meaghan was in Mexico. It was just the rookie’s third tournament as a full-fledged exempt player on the LPGA tour (one of only 138), but she swears she was only a little nervous. “I was a little intimidated when I first shook The Annika’s hand on the tee,” she says. “But after that, I just tried to stay in my game and play patient.” Francella finished 11 under par—setting a new tournament record. Playing in the group ahead of her on the last day, Sorenstam came from three strokes back to force the playoff. Francella notched the win with a four-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Bosque Real Country Club.
“My life just turned around in one day,” Francella said after the tournament. The $180,000 winner’s check she received dwarfed the $9,800 prize she received at the Lakeland Duramed Futures Classic event she won exactly a year earlier. She also won a three-year exemption on the LPGA tour and automatic entry into the majors. Meaghan’s biggest prize, though, was seeing the big smile on her father’s face.
Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison when he’s not on the golf course somewhere in Westchester.