As for tournaments, there’s no life-?changing money involved. A typical world-championship purse is around $170,000, and the men’s title winner earns about $4,000. Attendance? Underwhelming at best. And if you’re wanting flamboyant personalities, saddle up and go the other way; horseshoe pitchers are about as low-key as a somnambulist? — no tats or tweeting in between rounds.
“It’s a gentleman’s sport,” Francis says. “You start a game with a handshake and end a game with a handshake. Maybe we need a bad boy of some kind.”
Endorsements? Not quite, although Francis notes that he wears Nike shoes and apparel. “I hope they’ll come knocking, but I haven’t heard from them yet,” he quips.
The low attendance frustrates Francis, but he concedes that the game has about as much spectator appeal as C-SPAN.
“How do you get people enthused about watching a horseshoe tournament?” he muses. “To me, the stands should be packed with thousands of people at a world tournament, but we’re lucky to get 200 or 300 — and most of them are ?competitors who stick around for the finals.
“It’s not a spectator sport at all — it’s a participation sport,” he continues. “I can see how most people wouldn’t be interested in watching. But it’s deceiving: It’s much more intense than it looks.”
Take the 2009 World Championship Final, for instance, a taut thriller between Francis and Brian Simmons of Bristol, Vt., a chief rival. Simmons forced a one-game playoff for the title, which Francis proceeded? to win with the equivalent of a walk-off homer in baseball — a ringer thrown after a critical Simmons miss. The final tally: an amazing 126 ringers for Francis out of 140 throws to an equally astonishing 125 ringers for Simmons, for a razor-thin 90 to 89.29 percent winning margin.
How does Francis handle the pressure — the expectation that everyone else is playing for second place? It’s all about confidence forged by years of repetition and championship titles.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence,” he says. “I feel like no one can beat me, although I say that somewhat guardedly because I don’t want to sound overconfident. But I go into tournaments with high expectations and confidence in myself. I don’t allow myself to feel a lot of pressure. I know people are gunning for me.”
Or vigorously hoping for that early retirement.