Golf's latest Cinderella story may be upon us.
Meaghan Francella hadn't made an LPGA start since 2013. Now, nearly a decade later, she’s an LPGA teaching professional in Philadelphia, and won the 2021 LPGA Professionals National Championship, earning a spot in the ‘22 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which takes place in two weeks. To prepare, the 40-year-old is making her first LPGA start in nine years this week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
Thursday night, Francella was anxious and had trouble sleeping. She calmed down during her range session Friday morning, however, once she headed to the first tee box, the nerves returned. She kept her emotions in check and after the first few holes, she found a groove, which she rode to an opening 3-under 68 that has her T-7, three shots off the lead.
"It's been a long time," Francella said after her round. "I mean, anytime I tee it up with people I don't know, I'm uncomfortable. So playing with members I don't know who have maybe expectations of me, I get nervous a little bit. But this was different pressure today. It was wanting to play well because I know I could, but just really happy with how I handled myself really."
The past nine years, though, have been a roller coaster for Francella.
In 2013, Francella, whose lone official LPGA victory came at the 2007 MasterCard Classic, lost her tour card and decided to walk away from competing. She became an LPGA caddie the following year.
From 2014-18, she looped for Marina Alex, Na Yeon Choi, Min Lee, Michelle Wie West and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb.
Eventually, she stepped away from the tour altogether and moved back to her hometown of Port Chester, New York, landing a job with Major League Baseball in the digital media group.
But it wasn’t long until she realized she missed golf.
She returned to the sport she loves by joining the LPGA Amateur Golf Association as Director of Golf, working at the LPGA's headquarters and running 26 tournaments for the tour's 13,000 amateur members.
Francella eventually became a teaching professional — a new love of hers.
"(Her story is) really special," Webb said Wednesday. "Meaghan has been a good mate of mine. I've sort of seen her whole progression from when she was an LPGA rookie (in 2006) to where she is now. You know, I joked with her the other day, the only employment opportunity in golf that she hasn't got on her resume is greens superintendent. She's hit every other golf employment, even being an administrator working for the LPGA. Like she's got it all on her resume."
In October 2021, Francella's life again changed, and she would take on a new role outside of sports.
After her mother, Denise, was diagnosed with cancer, Meaghan spent last winter in Florida, sleeping in her parent's living room on a cot as she became her mother's "oncology nurse, doctor and caretaker," she wrote on LPGA.com.
It was Denise's goal to get better before the Women's PGA so she could be at Congressional Country Club to watch Meaghan. And in February, after five months of chemo and surgery, Denise was told she was cancer-free.
Fast forward another four months, Denise is on-site at Seaview in Galloway, New Jersey, to see her daughter's LPGA return in person.
"This is what I worked toward and it's the best feeling to watch her play golf," Denise said in a press conference alongside Meaghan on Wednesday. "I loved watching — I think I went to every basketball practice in high school. I just love watching her play, and to see her back here and playing happy golf. She's having fun playing, so it's so special for me."
Meaghan put the cherry on top of her return by playing her way into early contention in front of her mother and 60 others that Meaghan got tickets for. Though, she hopes to prolong the Cinderella story through the next two rounds in New Jersey and then at the PGA.
"I learned that I can still play," Meaghan said. "I learned that I can still compete and I still have the fire to compete. It's not gone. I learned about that today for sure."