The St. John’s Prep golf program has been producing superb players for more than 40 years, PGA professionals and career amateurs alike. But nothing compares to what the most recent wave of Prep players has accomplished over the past half-decade.
Nick McLaughlin (2015) and Steven DiLisio (2019) have won Massachusetts Amateur titles, James Turner set records while capturing the 2016 New England Amateur and James’s brother Mark has competed in the USGA Junior (twice) and Amateur championships.
Who’s the most likely candidate to next reach such a lofty plateau of accomplishment from the Prep alumni ranks? How about Amesbury-bred Chris Francoeur, the recently-named Division 1 New England Collegiate Player of the Year as a University of Rhode Island junior and a quarterfinalist each of the last two years at the Massachusetts Amateur?
Francoeur will be one of the favorites if the 112th Amateur is contested, as hoped and planned, in mid-July at Kittansett in Marion.
“Chris has the complete game,” says Joe Rocha, the PGA teaching professional at Golf Country in Middleton, the current Prep coach and Francoeur’s coach his senior year at the Danvers school. “He’s got a nice repeating swing, a good imagination and a healthy confidence about his game.”
“Nothing he’s done has surprised me,” adds legendary Prep coach Larry O’Neill, Francoeur’s coach his first three years at St. John’s. “Chris is an intense, smart player who had tremendous potential with us and appears to have plenty more as he wraps up his career at URI. He graduated from the Prep as one of the top 10 players stats-wise in the history of the program.”
Francoeur, 22, appreciates the compliments from his Prep coaches, but they won’t take him anywhere moving forward. He is focused on his primary goal in 2020.
“I want to win the Massachusetts Amateur and make it to the U.S. Amateur, simple as that,” Francoeur declares.
As a quarterfinalist in 2019, he is exempt into the main event at Kittansett. But he will have to wait a year to qualify at a sectional competition to make it to the 2021 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Wash. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, sectional qualifying has been cancelled for this year’s Amateur at Bandon Dunes Resort. The field will be filled strictly through the exemption process.
“I can wait. I have no choice,” Francoeur said. USGA sectional qualifying will hopefully resume for all 2021 championships.
It’s been a nightmare of a spring for all golfers, especially for the professionals and amateurs who thrive on competition, including those collegians like Francoeur whose spring season was eliminated because of the pandemic. It now appears his summer campaign will not start until July.
“I was really gung ho for the spring season, which is a terrific prep for the summer tournament schedule,” says Francoeur, a 5-10, 155-pounder. “I felt my game was trending upward in a big way after my fall season. So this long delay has been disappointing.
“I couldn’t event practice, except for hitting balls into a net, for a long time, then thankfully we got a green light in early May for resuming play on the real course.”
“Everybody will be starting over after a long layoff,” added Francoeur, who grew up at Amesbury starting golf at the age of 12 pretty much on his own, though he got vital guidance from his dad Michael and granddad Albert. He gets his high-level direction these days from teaching pro Adam Kolloff of Pure Drive Golf, based locally in Woburn.
Desiring an 18-hole championship course for his home base, Francoeur played out of Haverhill last year; he’s affiliated with Renaissance in 2020.
The former Prep hockey and baseball player credits the school’s golf program with setting him straight on the mental part of the game, thus giving him the chance to play Division 1 in college.
“Without my four years at the Prep,” he says, “I doubt I would be playing at this high level today. I learned to take golf seriously at St. John’s and how to play tournament golf.”
Becoming friends with Prep teammate Mark Turner has also been critical. “Mark introduced me to major tournament golf,” he said. “I’ve played a lot with him at Bass Rocks.”
Chris says the support he has received from his father and mom Kelly has been priceless. “They’ve invested everything you could think of into my golf. I can never thank them enough.”
Though he’s started by enlisting his father as his caddy for the past two Mass. Amateurs, maybe their third go-round at Kittansett will be the charm.
Great news from Governor Charlie Baker’s office Wednesday that golf has been added to Phase II of the state’s Re-Opening Plan, which includes the likely opening – finally – of driving ranges and golf course practice ranges, most likely effective Monday.
Author and historian Gary Larrabee has covered golf on the North Shore for a half-century.