Whether for laughs, or as a measuring stick for progress, a story is often told at local municipal golf courses.
One summer day in 2008, as Seth Nickerson waited on the first tee at Tumwater Valley Golf Club, another eighth-grader asked to join him.
Little did anybody know at the time that teenager – Dominick Francks – would go on to become the state’s best golfer as a Stanford-bound senior at Olympia High School. He will try to defend his Class 4A state boys title starting today in Spokane.
Back then, Francks was a more accomplished baseball player. Nothing proved that more than the swing he made on that first hole with Nickerson.
“From that very first swing, I thought, ‘This kid is a hack,’ ” Nickerson said. “I wanted to tell him after the round, ‘Stick to baseball.’ And after that first time we played, I tried avoiding him every time he saw me.”
“I want to play with him every day,” said Nickerson, a Tumwater High senior who will play at Pacific Lutheran next season. “Funny how the tides have changed.”
Athletes develop at different rates. But Francks has always shown a great amount of ability in sports.
His father, Steve, was an Ivy League javelin champion at Princeton – and a big baseball fan. That was the sport the teenager played the most early on.
From 2005-08, Francks was a catcher on the same Pepsi Royals national champion youth squad as some of the South Sound’s brightest stars, notably W.F. West High’s Mitch Gueller (Washington State signee and pro prospect) and Centralia’s Andrew Pullin (Oregon).
Golf eventually won out. How?
“One day, we had baseball games at 10 a.m. and 4 in the afternoon,” he said. “And I played nine holes in between. I figured, ‘What sport do I really want to play?’ ”
He started seeing Joe Thiel, an Olympia-based instructor whose stable of local stars includes Michael and Andrew Putnam, Brock Mackenzie, Richard Lee, Cameron Peck and current Stanford standout Andrew Yun.
“He was a raw eighth grader, and he would come out of his shoes on every swing,” Thiel said. “So we started in and what he produces now is ball flight, speed and launch. He now has a very sound golf swing.”
Up until 2010, Francks was uncertain how far he could go in golf. He missed the cut at the 4A tournament as a sophomore. But that summer, he came out of nowhere to win the Washington Junior Golf Association state championship and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association’s Junior Boys title.
Slowly, Francks’ talent began mixing with his ultra-competitiveness.
“The feeling of being in a tournament focuses me. It is a competitive spirit thing, and I do not know why,” Francks said. “I get to a point where I direct anger at myself like, ‘There is no way this kid next to me will beat me.’ That has always been there.”
In the past year, very few golfers have beaten Francks.
He had a banner 2011 summer, finishing fifth in the Junior America’s Cup, second at the Hudson Junior Invitational and third at the Callaway Junior World Championship – one of junior golf’s major events.
When he sees his son having that kind of success, Steve Francks is reminded of a quote from former U.S President Calvin Coolidge that the teenager has taped up in his bedroom.
“The line that has stuck with him is, ‘Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent,’ ” Steve Francks said. “Dominick knows he is a lucky guy who has a lot going for him. But he works his butt off.”
After a spring of up-and-down rounds, Dominick Francks said his ball-striking is rounding into form. He defended his Narrows League title two weeks ago, and heads into the state championship as the clear favorite.
“Everyone I play against seems to have a better swing than me,” Francks said. “Somehow I manage to get the ball in the hole in fewer strokes most of the time. I really don’t know why that is. I must have a good mind for golf.”
BOYS, GIRLS GOLF STATE TOURNAMENTS
Boys site: Hangman Valley, Spokane
2011 champions: Team – Bellarmine Prep; individual – Dominick Francks, Olympia.
Girls site: MeadowWood, Liberty Lake
2011 champions: Team – Bellarmine Prep; individual – Erynne Lee, Central Kitsap.
Boys site: Indian Canyon, Spokane
2011 champions: Team – Seattle Prep; individual – Eric Gravbrot, West Valley (Yakima).
Girls site: Esmeralda, Spokane
2011 champions: Team – Mercer Island; individual – Rachel Lewis, Peninsula.
Boys site: The Classic Golf Course, Spanaway
2011 champions: Team – Interlake; individual – Ryan Wallen, Blaine.
Girls site: Lake Spanaway Golf Course, Spanaway
2011 champions: Team – Bellingham; individual – Paige Whidbee, Pullman.
Boys site: The Home Course, DuPont
2011 champions: Team – Ilwaco; individual – Brett Johnson, Ridgefield.
Girls site: The Home Course, DuPont
2011 champions: Team – Life Christian; individual – Kristen Rue, Life Christian.
Boys site: Oakbrook Golf and Country Club, Lakewood
2011 champions: Team – Bear Creek School; individual – Ryan Baumgardt, DeSales.
Girls site: Oakbrook Golf and Country Club, Lakewood
2011 champions: Team – St. John-Endicott; individual – Kira Powell, Odessa. STATE GOLF Tournaments
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442