Francella more disciplined after down year

Meaghan Francella gets in a last practice session with swing instructor Gale Peterson at LPGA International before the start of Q-School.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After a casual round of golf on Black Friday, Beth Daniel told Meaghan Francella that the ball now makes a different sound coming off her clubface. She’s hitting the sweet spot more, and Daniel’s words of affirmation must have been music to Francella’s ears.

“I’m just so impressed with what I see right now,” said Daniel of her young protege.

This has been a reality-check year for Francella, a tour winner who finds herself back at LPGA Qualifying School after a heartbreaking season. She hit rock bottom in September after a whirlwind trip to England to try qualifying for the Ricoh Women’s British Open. When Francella got back home, she had trouble sleeping. She went to the doctor and was faced with a scale. The 30-year-old immediately got serious about her diet, cutting out alcohol and soda and eating smart. At the urging of good friend Stacy Lewis, Francella began going to Lewis’ trainer and lost 12 pounds in six weeks. She now goes to bed at 9:30 p.m.

“I just really changed my life,” Francella said. “I’m treating it as a 9-to-5 job.”

It took a village to get Francella, one of four LPGA winners back at Q-School, in the right frame of mind this week. Gale Peterson, a longtime instructor out of Sea Island, helped Francella overhaul the basics of her golf swing. At the end of every phone conversation, Peterson would tell Francella how proud she was of her student’s progress and commitment. Those words meant a great deal to the New Yorker, who is carrying herself with renewed confidence and an easy smile here at LPGA International.

Last summer, Francella had dinner with her mother Denise and good friend Karrie Webb. It was at that dinner that Webb started preaching “tough love” to Denise, a school teacher who prays and lights candles every day for her daughter. It has been a stressful year for Denise as well, who hurts every time Meaghan hurts.

Eventually, Francella began to realize that feeling sorry for herself wasn’t getting her anywhere. She also realized she wasn’t working hard enough.

With Peterson’s guidance, Francella began making major swing changes. Throughout the year, she’d call Daniel or Meg Mallon with a similar refrain: I can do it on the range, but not under pressure.

“That’s basically the definition of a swing change,” said Daniel.

Like many things in life, Francella had to fall farther back before she could move forward. It was a painful process.

Francella still gets nervous every time she tees it up with Webb, even though she counts her as a close friend. The same goes for Daniel and Mallon. There’s a tremendous around of respect there, not to mention gratitude.

“I call them for everything,” Francella said.

This week, Francella has Lewis’ caddie, Travis Wilson, on the bag. Paula Creamer drove up to Daytona from Orlando, Fla., to have dinner on Monday night and has helped plan her wardrobe for the week. Francella will wear pink on Friday when Creamer comes back to watch.

“I told Beth I’m going to call her every day this week,” said Francella with a laugh.

The mentoring that goes on in golf is a testament to the game’s character. As a young player, Daniel often called JoAnne Carner or Louise Suggs for advice. She always wanted to talk to someone who had been there before.

Earlier this year, Daniel told Francella something she had learned long ago. There is no secret to success; it’s all about hard work.

“You gain confidence through preparation,” Daniel said.

And now, it’s time to perform.

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