By Lali Stander
He has only been in the pro ranks for four months, but it didn’t take Ben Follett-Smith long to make his mark in his native Zimbabwe and in the Ivory Coast. Now the 23-year-old is chasing success in South Africa.
Coming off a top 10 finish in his fourth start on the IGT Challenge Tour last week, the 23-year-old from Harare threw down the gauntlet with a flawless nine-under-par 63 to soar to the first round lead in the 15th event of Race to Q-School Series at State Mines Country Club.
He leads by one from Pretoria rookie Peetie van der Merwe and is two ahead of Italy’s Philip Geerts.
Follett-Smith was one of his country’s rising amateur stars before he took up a scholarship at Mississippi State University.
A former Zimbabwe amateur champion, he won the Individual Competition in the 2012 All-Africa Junior Golf Championship, represented Zimbabwe at the World Amateur Team Championship in 2011 and the All-Africa Team Championship.
Represented Zimbabwe at the World Amateur Team Championship
Follett-Smith intended to compete in the amateur ranks after he graduated with a Business Sales and Marketing degree, but that changes over a chat with local professional Gary Thompson.
“Gary said I shouldn’t wait and I changed my mind,” said Follett-Smith. “My goal is to reach the PGA Tour, so I decided to start the journey in October last year.”
He broke his duck in his first start in the paid ranks, winning the NAC HIV & Cancer Pro-Am by eight shots at Royal Harare Golf Club. Less than a month later, he claimed a runner-up finish in the Cote d’Ivoire Open on the West Africa Golf Tour. Now the Zimbabwean is hunting a first victory on South Africa’s premier golf development circuit.
He fired four birdies to complete the first loop in 32 strokes. A gain at 10 saw him dip five under par and a string of four birdies from the 14th shot Follett-Smith to the top of the pile.
Van der Merwe – who finished second in the 23rd World Amateur Golfers Championship in Malaysia last year – briefly flirted with the lead.
The HPC TuksSport Golf Academy player cancelled a bogey start with an eagle at the par-five third and fired four birdies to turn five-under. He added gains at 10, 17 and 18 to move within one shot of Follett-Smith.
Geerts, meanwhile, fired a bogey-free 65 to edge out Jade Buitendag, David Mofokeng and amateur Carlo Heunis for third.
FIRST ROUND SCORES (top 20)
63 – Benjamin Follett-Smith (ZIM)
64 – Peetie Vd Merwe
65 – Philip Geerts (ITA)
66 – Jade Buitendag, David Mofokeng (LSO), Carlo Heunis AMA
67 – John Bele, Jason Roets, Paul Boshoff, Gary Daoust (BEL)
68 – Dean O’Riley, Richard Joubert, Shaun van Tonder, Bryce Myburgh
69 – Matt Bright, Marco De Beer, Tokkie Van Den Berg, Gilson Filho (BRA)
70 – Jason Rossiter AMA, Brandon Lydon AMA, Hendrikus Stoop AMA, Basil Wright, Matthew Vogel, Eric Park (KOR), Dylan Mostert AMA, Juan Langeveld, Phillip Kruse AMA
Article courtesy of the IGT Challenge Tour.
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