Faith Francioso was riding back from a junior tournament in White Plains last week when she looked at her smart phone and saw an email saying that this September she will be making a longer trip to a bigger tournament. She was chosen to play with the pros at Pebble Beach.
“I saw in the subject line, ‘Congratulations!’ and I kind of just started freaking out. I was like ‘Oh my God, this is happening,’ ” said the 15-year-old from Wantagh about being selected to play in the Nature Valley First Tee Open, an official event on the PGA Champions Tour. “I was speechless.”
She will get to play alongside Bernhard Langer, John Daly or some other tour veteran in a tournament based on the old Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-Am format. Francioso will be the New York metropolitan area’s representative in the showcase for The First Tee, a program that teaches young people golf and core values. Getting into the Open is the dream of everyone who signs up and she has been applying for three years.
Francioso joined The First Tee of Nassau County when she was 5, when her parents, Lynn and John, enrolled her. “I fell in love with the game immediately and I kept getting a little better and got into it competitively,” she said. “All of my close friends now are in The First Tee. We have all gone through the program together and now we all volunteer to teach younger kids.”
Voluntarism is one of the criteria for choosing participants in The First Tee Open, which suits Francioso fine. She is proud to have progressed from student to mentor. Every Open participant must be better than an 8 handicap. No problem there, either. The rising junior at Wantagh High School has a 2.3 handicap index and has been on Wantagh’s boys varsity since the seventh grade.
“The one thing that sets her apart is her determination,” said Justin Koff, director of Nassau’s First Tee program and Francioso’s golf instructor. “There are few kids who are able to get a goal in their mind and work hard every day to make that happen. She is willing to put in the work.”
She made a hole-in-one when she was 12 (and is honest enough to admit it was after she had hit her first shot in the water, so “It was a good par save”). In her application, she noted that her favorite core value is perseverance. “I don’t win every tournament. I know I make some mistakes, but I learn from those experiences,” she said.
Perseverance came into play when she was in junior high, playing with and against juniors and seniors in high school (Wantagh does not have a girls squad).
“They were welcoming, they were nice. In middle school, it was more intimidating because they were all older and I was the only girl on the team. It was definitely a little stressful,” he said. “But I have gotten more confident over the years. I like playing with them. I think it pushes me to work harder. And I got my friend, another girl, to try out.”
All of the golf has not cut into Francioso’s study time. She carried a perfect 4.0 scholastic average until recently, when it dipped to 3.8. Golf Channel featured her in one of its Honor Roll segments. “That was actually a surprise,” she said. “My family applied for me and they didn’t tell me until it was on the air.”
So far, she says the most beautiful course she ever has played is Sebonack in Southampton. She has seen Pebble Beach only on TV. “TV probably doesn’t do it justice,” she said, adding that her parents both will go to California to see her among golf’s legends. “I’m still kind of speechless.”
The Parker Jewish Institute Foundation Golf Classic will be Aug. 1 at Glen Oaks Club, Old Westbury. Email Golf@Parkerinstitute.org.