Francis leaving UCLA for Arizona State

Philip Francis in action at the 2008 U.S. Amateur.

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Philip Francis told Golfweek June 8 that he is transferring from UCLA after two seasons to enroll at Arizona State, but will have to sit out the 2009-10 season due to Pac-10 regulations.

Francis – Golfweek’s top-ranked junior for the majority of his junior career, who also helped UCLA to a national championship his freshman year – said he just never took to the Los Angeles lifestyle, or golf style.

“I’m glad I came here, felt like I matured a lot, grew up a lot, got out of my comfort zone,” said Francis, who grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., in a house near Desert Mountain GC, where he was home-schooled.

“But I just miss Arizona, miss Scottsdale golf.”

Pac-10 rules state that student athletes must sit out a year after transferring to a school within the conference, though Francis said athletes in smaller sports like golf are allowed to apply for a one-time conference exception.

Francis, 20, found out Monday afternoon – just after withdrawing from his U.S. Open Sectional in Somis, Calif., with a minor hand injury – that his appeal had been denied.

“It’s kind of a weird process, it doesn’t make much sense to me,” said Francis, who tweaked his right hand after getting his club stuck in a tree root in his afternoon round. “I didn’t really get to state my case.”

Arizona State coach Randy Lein was hopeful Francis’ appeal would be approved, but also said the decision was expected, knowing of only one exception in the past that was made because of a serious illness.

Francis was granted a full release from UCLA, which would have allowed him to play golf at any school outside the Pac-10, but also allows him to keep his two years of college eligibility.

“He’s accepted (the decision) and excited about the summer and then working hard for a year before making a contribution for the Sun Devils in 2010,” said Lein.

Lein didn’t recruit Francis too hard as a junior golfer because Francis indicated early on that he wanted to get away from home.

“And kind of once that was made up...,” said Lein.

One of the major reasons Francis chose UCLA was former head coach O.D. Vincent, who recruited Francis but left to coach Duke the summer before Francis’ freshman season. (Vincent, replaced at UCLA by Derek Freeman, has since left Duke to become senior associate director of athletics at Washington.)

Originally, Francis verbally committed to UCLA with fellow junior phenom Rickie Fowler, but Fowler backed out of that commitment soon after and ended up at Oklahoma State. Since then, Fowler has become one of the biggest names in college golf, and will play in his second U.S. Open next week.

Though Francis won a championship with the Bruins his freshman season, his results haven’t matched those of his stellar junior career, which included a victory at the 2006 U.S. Junior.

Francis’ first two years at UCLA were packed with top-20 finishes, his scores counting for UCLA about 94 percent of the time. He tied for 33rd at last year’s NCAA Championship, and then tied for 16th this fall at the Isleworth Collegiate.

After making changes in his backswing, Francis said his game began to improve late in the spring, which showed at the NCAA Central Regional, where he tied for third. He opened with a 70 at last month’s NCAA Championship, but closed with consecutive 77s to tie for 79th and finished the year 90th in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.

Francis is looking at next year as “a year to get stronger,” and will focus on getting his game back to a high level. He is excited to return to Desert Mountain’s six courses and four practice facilities, a contrast from Los Angeles traffic and at least 30-minute commutes from campus to the golf course. Francis said he’ll try to play tournaments at least once a month during the school year and will enter a few PGA Tour Monday qualifiers.

His focus now, however, is on making a run at the U.S. Walker Cup team. His summer schedule includes the Northeast Amateur, a sponsor exemption into the John Deere Classic (where he made the cut last year and tied for 34th), Southern Amateur, Western Amateur, Pacific Coast Amateur and, if he qualifies, the U.S. Amateur, which begins Aug. 24, the same day the fall semester begins at Arizona State.

“Hopefully he’ll go two years and get his degree,” said Lein. “He’ll be like my No. 1 recruit coming in for 2010.”

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