Frankie Thomas steps up for Saluki men’s golf

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

As Saluki men’s golf kicked off their 2019 season, senior Frankie Thomas was one of six players to return to the team following their 2018 season finish as Missouri Valley Conference champions. 

Thomas is the only member of the team that has played for more than one year at Southern Illinois, and head coach Justin Fetcho said this depth of experience allows Thomas to serve as a leader for the team this season. 

“The guys on the team are looking at him as a leader,” Fetcho said. “He’s been here, he understands our expectations, he understands our culture, our environment and hopefully he portrays that to all of them about what we’re trying to accomplish and what we need to do.”

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Thomas said his role as a leader keeps him conscious of his own performance and actions as he knows his teammates look to him for direction. 

“I think the guys look up to me because I’ve been there before, I have the experience,” Thomas said. “Sometimes […] I have to take a step back and realize that these guys look up to me and they’re looking to me for advice.”

Sophomore Matthis Besard, one of the other returning players from last season, said Thomas keeps the team not only accountable but also relaxed.  

“Frank does a great job in keeping things very relaxed but still focused,” Besard said. “Being relaxed but still in the moment and not having too much tension [are] pretty important in golf; the more relaxed you are, the better you play.”

Thomas, who is from Chesterfield, Mo., studies marketing and finance at Southern Illinois. He said although he potentially has an opportunity to work at a healthcare management company once he graduates from SIU, he would like to try and play golf professionally first.

The senior said he has been playing golf for as long as he can remember, and said he has his dad, who was an amateur golfer, especially to thank for introducing him to the sport. 

“There’s pictures of me when I was one or two [years old] with a little plastic club in my hand,” Thomas said. “As long as I can remember, golf has always been a part of my life, and I have my parents to thank for that.”

When he was younger, Thomas said he had also played baseball, basketball and football, but stuck with basketball and golf throughout high school, eventually deciding to pursue golf in college.

“There were moments in each sport where I realized that sport probably wasn’t for me,” Thomas said. “Golf was a sport where [a person] doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest guy to succeed, and I thought that [with] as well as I was playing in high school and before that, I was able to take it to a Division I school.”

Thomas said he had a very well-accomplished senior year, including winning every tournament aside from the state tournament, qualifying for two U.S. Junior tournaments, two PGA tournaments and winning an American Junior Golf Association tournament. 

In choosing a college to attend and play golf at, Thomas said Southern Illinois was a good opportunity for him to be able to compete against other talented teams, as well as study business.

“SIU has been a great spot for me because we’re able to play against some of the best competition in the country, and coach [Fetcho] is able to get us into some great tournaments,” Thomas said. “Another part of it was that I was able to get into the business program, which is something that I knew I wanted to do in high school.”

While at Southern, Thomas said his favorite memory so far has been the feeling of winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last year. 

“Hoisting that trophy, being able to take pictures with it, take it home, see it in the trophy case when you walk by it everyday [brings] a bit of nostalgia,” Thomas said. Those are memories in your head that [remind you] what it takes to win one of those.”

Following the MVC championship tournament, SIU advanced to become one of 13 to compete in the NCAA Regional tournament held in Louisville, Ky. The Salukis finished 10th, but it was only the top four finishing teams that had the opportunity to advance to the NCAA National tournament. 

Thomas said it was one round that could have made the difference for the Salukis, and the feeling of losing is what helped the team set their goals for this season. 

“[At Louisville,] if we would have played well in that one round, we would have moved onto the national championship,” Thomas said. “That was disappointing because we were that close to doing something special, something that this school has never seen. That’s our goal this year: to win conference again, play well in regionals, and hopefully make it to the national championship.”

Fetcho said he has seen the senior improve his golf game with each season he has played for the Salukis.

“He’s gotten better each year, which is something that we want to be able to happen with all of our players in our program,” Fetcho said. “I think that he’s been able to do that from the time he arrived on campus his freshman year, in August, to this point right here today.”

Thomas said working with Fetcho has been a valuable experience for him because of the experience he brings to the team.

“His main goal is to help us get better on the golf course and also in the classroom, and I think that’s very valuable [in] a coach,” Thomas said. “He’s very knowledgeable about the game of golf, and he’s had so much experience coaching as well as playing, and I think that is useful to us because he can relate to us in certain scenarios on the golf course.”

Aside from Fetcho and his father, Thomas said another coach that has had a large impact on his golf career is Helen Curtain.

“I personally have a golf coach back home [in St. Louis], who is more of a swing coach: Helen Curtain,” Thomas said. “I’ve been working with her for 10 years now. She probably, along with coach [Fetcho] and my father, have probably had the biggest impacts on my golf career.”

Fetcho said while coaching Thomas, he has been able to see him grow not only as an athlete, but also as a leader for his teammates.

“He’s came out and performed on the golf course and has been able to at least be a leader by example in terms of his play,” Fetcho said. It’s just a matter of him continuing to grow and improve as a leader and also continue to try and help the rest of the team as well.”

Thomas said at this point in the season, he sees the team beginning to move in a positive direction. 

“I think mentally and physically, we’re starting to move in the right direction and it’s exciting to see us do that,” Thomas said. “Winning conference last year gave us a sense of perspective of how we can compete.”

Thomas and Besard, along with the rest of the Saluki men’s golf team, continue to move forward this season in hopes the opportunity to hoist the MVC championship trophy yet again. 

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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