The Francois family’s world is a green place and ever revolving around 10 year old Sumie and her 12 year old brother Alex. This is largely due to their dedication to the discipline and fun they find on the golf green.
Golf and the links of the country club the kids practice at were not even in the imagination of Joseph Francois whose life began as the youngest child in a very big family in Montreal. Work and courtship put him and his wife Sumie on the road to Vancouver and then a return to his wife’s native Japan, where both their children were born.
Their return to settle in British Columbia’s lower mainland led to a casual trip to a Toys R Us store where Alex found some kiddie sized golf clubs. Much to his son’s delight, Joseph bought them. “We had no idea what they were,” says Joseph. “We got a book and coached the kids from the instructions.”
Alex got good at the sport by practicing in the little space that Joseph and his wife were able to set up in their home. By age five, Alex had played his first tournaments. By six he was beating the scores of the 10 plus year olds. “Soon enough he was the best kid in his age group in Canada, and number nine in the world.”
Little Sumie, watching all this, soon stepped up to the tee as well. She has three world tournaments to her credit; as a seven year old at the Junior Worlds in Chicago, as an eight year old at the Worlds in San Diego and at 10, Best in the World, in San Diego.
Typical of kids, brother and sister try hard in school; enjoy their playtime outdoors and in their electronic den. Unlike most other kids, Sumie and Alex are drawn to practice, and more practice, in a sport they both clearly have an aptitude and a passion for.
Dedication by children so young to play, to practice and to keep up their skills and improve is remarkable. Even more remarkable is the sacrifice of their parents. “I’ll help as long as they want, so that they can’t blame us for the lack of opportunity or support of their parents,” says Joseph. “Sumie and I have decided to close down any excuses, including the biggest ones facing families, time and money.”
For the Francois’ this has meant taking work where both parents are close to home and can earn a living to support their choices, yet not to rise so high that travel or heavier time and task commitments which might take them away from their family. In the early family years, they both worked opposite shifts so that one parent could always attend to the children.
Joseph’s motivation is a combination of wanting to be connected to his kids for as long as he is able to be with them, to protect them and to offer them the opportunities for learning and personal developments. In short, sharing, and modeling, life lessons.
The family’s balance is in tact even when Sumie and Alex meet up with the more than 150 kids from 70 countries that turn out for tournaments. For the Francois’ it’s more than the trophies they bring home.
“Golf is the best environment to teach about life. It requires patience as one bad shot, or a loss of temper becomes your fault, your responsibility. There is etiquette. There are rules and there is a dignity to the person and how they manage themselves. We want our kids to be respectful and to appreciate life.”
The pair travel together with their dad to tournaments, but as they have no sponsorship, their competitive opportunities are limited to trips every couple of years. In between, they grow their skill and practice every chance they get locally.
Members at Shaughnessy Country Club in Vancouver, and parents of other young competitors at tournaments have commented, “Your kids are going to make it. They’ll turn pro”. For the Francois, “it’s a bit crazy to look at their 10 and 12 year old, as going pro”.
Even with all the talent potential and the possibility of going pro in the future, Joseph sums up his family’s response. “As parents, Sumie and I simply open the door. Life can be difficult. We want our children to laugh, cry and think – to experience the full range of feelings – and we use golf as the way to teach them everything we can about life and all its emotion.”
“If we pressure them, it will backfire. We don’t lie. We tell the truth about what can happen. How it can all just break down at any time. So, mentally they have to be equipped with discipline and the ability to understand and to create opportunity – and we will do our best for as long as our kids themselves want to play.”
Community members wish for the Francois family to find sponsorship to help develop the potential Sumie and Alex have for the game, and the passion they show for it.
In 2007, KMG Productions and Privilege Group Holdings shot a mini documentary sponsored by The Afro News. Entitled “Chasing the Golf Dream,” the 25 minute HD video follows the family and the place they’ve made for golf in their lives. It’s been submitted and will be screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) as a Canadian Short Film.