Frankie Thomas thought his college golf playing days were over.
A senior at Southern Illinois University, the Chesterfield native had high hopes for his last campaign. Then, the coronavirus pandemic brought collegiate sports to a sudden halt last spring.
“I did think I was done,” said Thomas, a Marquette High alumnus. “I don’t think it really sank in until the entire season was done. It all got canceled. I wasn’t given the opportunity to finish.”
Thomas and his teammates were in New Orleans when they found out the season was over.
“It was a really crazy end of the season,” Thomas recalled. “We were in Louisiana and were going to play in the (Louisana-Lafayette) Ragin’ Cajuns tournament. We had flown into New Orleans. We were eating on Bourbon Street and got the call. We had a general idea of what might happen. But we just thought once we got down there, we’d be able to play. We already flown and sure enough, the compliance guy called and said to take the first flight home. Our conference canceled all events. We were all disappointed.”
In the matches the Salukis managed to play before being stopped, Thomas led the team with a 73.0 stroke average – the sixth-lowest in school history.
Thomas, who graduated with a degree in finance and marketing, got a job at a local bank and was set to get on with life. However, the NCAA ruled seniors who didn’t get to play this spring could return if their alma mater or another school wanted them. After talking it over with his parents – Scott and Lelah – Thomas decided to obtain a master’s degree and play another year of golf.
But SIU didn’t want Thomas or his senior roommate, Sean Mullan, back.
“We expressed (that) we wanted to stay and play,” Thomas said. “Other athletes at SIU were given the opportunity to stay. I and my roommate were not given the opportunity. I was the best player, and Sean was the No. 3 player. It was disappointing.
“It was simply a coach’s decision. They think the freshmen coming in are going to be good and wanted to give them the experience. He (Justin Fetcho) didn’t want two seniors taking up the spots. I don’t necessarily agree. I was there for four years.”
While he was there, Thomas played well for SIU.
He ranks fourth in school history with eight career rounds in the 60s. His career stroke average of 74.88 is ninth in SIU history. He started his collegiate career with a sixth-place finish at the Murray State Invitational, where he was 6-under par, including a 64 in the first round, which tied the school record for best 18-hole score. Thomas helped the Salukis win the Missouri Valley Conference championship as a junior. He opened the 2019-20 season with four-straight top-30 finishes in tournament action.
“My first-ever collegiate round, I tied the school record with a 64,” Thomas said. “That was kind of fun to come out of the gate hot. Winning conference in my junior year as a team was fun. I’ll remember that most of all at SIU.”
Plus, the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Thomas improved as a player in college.
“Physically, I’m not the biggest kid. But the amount of time I spent in the gym, I improved physically,” he said. “I learned more about the mental approach that helped me. I learned how to save strokes. Both mentally and physically, I’m a much better player.”
None of that mattered. He was done as a Saluki.
So Thomas entered the NCAA transfer portal. Within 30 minutes, he got messages from coaches everywhere. Thomas said he got emails from “probably 15 to 20” schools. One of those who emailed was Wichita State coach Judd Easterling, formerly an assistant coach at the University of Missouri.
“I knew him from Mizzou and he had an offer for me,” Thomas said. “They’ve got a great program at Wichita. I took it and I’m excited.”
Thomas plans to obtain a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) degree over the next two years. After that, he said he’s not sure.
“Working in a bank was not something I thought I was going to do,” Thomas said. “I was given this opportunity. I’m really enjoying it. I’m learning a lot. I’m helping out so I’m leaving all doors open.
“In golf, my dad has a couple of state (amateur) titles. He doesn’t hesitate to remind me about that. He’s obviously got an edge on me now but I’m going to try and see what I can do about that.”