Phil Mickelson leaned over, initiated a friendly conversation, and scribbled his autograph on her cap.

Francesca Black won’t soon forget that motivational moment last year in Doral, one that has inspired the just-turned 12-year-old, sixth-grade student to recently lead the MAST Academy varsity girls golf team to the Greater Miami Athletic Association Conference tournament title, an event usually reserved for much older high school students.


Francesca holding some of her awards from a recent tournament.

“It was very encouraging for her,” said her dad, David, a “weekend golfer” whose family lives on Key Biscayne.

Asked if Mickelson knew who his daughter was, David confidently smiles: “Not yet, but he will.”

It’s that type of confidence that has put Francesca into the “prodigy” conversation these days.

Shooting a personal-best 88 for 18 holes placed her sixth individually as MAST defeated runner-up Palmetto High by 22 strokes two weeks ago at Redland Golf & Country Club in Homestead.

“She is amazing,” MAST Academy golf coach Jeffrey Raymond said. “Francesca is an incredible golfer for any age, but to achieve this level of skill by sixth grade is amazing. It is a thrill out there watching her drive the ball past juniors and seniors in high school.”

A member of the Crandon Golf Academy, Francesca’s achievements are a product of a lot of time and effort. While some classmates were pondering which Barbie outfit to wear for Halloween (by the way, Francesca opted for the “Men in Black” theme with a group of friends), she was busy working on her swing this week with a PGA-level instructor and studying course layouts, tuning up for her next tournament.

Her longest drive has been 220 yards, thanks to her natural ability and a women-sized Titleist wood driver that has been custom-fitted for about $800. That club quickly helped add some 40 yards off the tee for the 4-foot-10 bundle of talent.


Francesca with one of her hard-earned medals around her neck.

“She has one of the purest, most natural swings I have ever seen,” Raymond said.

In comparison, LPGA star Lexi Thompson, who at age 12 already had qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open (and hasn’t missed one since), averages 270.712 yards on her drives this year, ranking the 28-year-old Coral Springs native among the top 10.

At the recent district tournament, her first, Francesca placed ninth among 28 individuals at the Grand Palms Resort course in Pembroke Pines, missing a regional qualification spot by just one stroke with a round of 93.

“It’s a little difficult; a lot of them are older than me,” she said, understating that everyone is older than a sixth grader.

Francesca’s mom, Mariana, a “Key Rat” who once was a student at Key Biscayne Elementary and St. Agnes Academy, doesn’t play golf but gives credit to her husband for getting their daughter involved early at age 6.

“I go out with Francesca and play nine holes whenever we can. She beats me every single time,” David said, laughing.

In between homework and other recreation, which includes fishing (she’s caught a black-tip and a nurse shark) and paddle-boarding with her younger sister, Dominique, 8 (also an aspiring golfer), Francesca is slugging golf balls at the Crandon Golf Academy for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, works with her personal coach on Saturdays, and travels to a series of weekend youth tournaments.


Francesca and her younger sister, Dominique, at the Drive Chip & Putt. 

In addition, she’ll spend time with her uncle at The Sanctuary Golf Course on Sanibel Island, where she occasionally visits.

“It’s been almost seven years,” Mariana said. “Hopefully, all the work (and expenses) will pay off.”

Americans comprise just 37% of the current LPGA Tour roster, which emanates from 30 countries.

“You do see a lot of the girls (on the tour) from Europe and Asia now,” David said. “Colleges (in the US) are looking for (homegrown) girls.”

Francesca said there are no specific scores or targets in her game plan, although she’s “not a big fan” of sand traps.

“I just want to keep improving,” she said.

The daughter of a Jamaican father and a Peruvian mother, culture and language are important to the family. Francesca is expanding her horizons by studying Italian as an elective at MAST alongside her conventional math and science curriculum.

But, playing golf for the Makos and talking golf (“Basically, all we talk about”) with another young teammate, Sara Montoya, an eighth-grader who placed seventh in the conference tournament, is where Francesca’s heart lies.

She admits that being the youngest on the team and her first year in middle school, she does feel some pressure, “But they’re nice to me.”

Coach Raymond realizes Francesca’s future is bright, regardless of the direction she takes.

“The sky is the limit for this wonderful girl, both in life and golf,” he said. “She has a wonderful, positive attitude, and the potential for her as a golfer is huge as she continues to grow.”

Who knows? Maybe the next time “Lefty” sees her, he’ll ask for her autograph.