7th February 2018 | IGT Challenge Tour

Follett-Smith pulverises State Mines competition

(PHOTO – Ben Follett-Smith; credit CJ du Plooy)

Lali Stander

BRAKPAN, 7 February 2018 – Ben Follett-Smith sealed a dominant wire-to-wire victory in the 15th event of the Race to Q-School Series, sealing his maiden IGT Challenge Tour title in Brakpan on Wednesday.

A final round six-under-par 66 at State Mines Country Club saw the Zimbabwean triumph with a four-shot margin on 17-under-par 199.

Tokkie van der Berg lost his grip on the overnight lead early on, but a flawless back nine and a final round 69 landed the Tuks HPC Golf Academy players a share of second with Peetie van der Merwe and Bryce Myburgh.

Myburgh carded 68, while Van der Merwe signed off with a 67 to finish at 14-under.

Follett-Smith, Myburgh and Van der Merwe all burst from the blocks with birdie-birdie starts.

Myburgh drew level with a birdie at the third and Van der Merwe eagled at the par five, but Follett-Smith edged clear of both players with further gains at four, eight and nine.

“I holed a 30-footer for birdie at the eighth and I hit my approach to eight feet at nine and hold the birdie putt to start the back nine with a tidy shot lead,” said Follett-Smith.

“Coming home was pretty stress-free but I must admit, I lost a little focus after the birdie at 10 and let one slip at the 12th when I caught a flier out of the rough. But pulled it back.”

Follett-Smith took advantage of the par five to claim a shot back at 15 and hit a great 7-iron into the par three 16th to set up another birdie.

“The wind blew pretty stiff over the last nine holes, and it was very inconsistent, which made it tricky to judge your clubs,” he said. “I aimed five yards left of the flag, but the wind held the ball up and it finished three feet from the hole.

“I definitely drove it better than in the second round, because I missed my first fairway of the day at the 17th. Managed to scramble a par, though, then hit my drive down 18 into the trees. I decided there was no reason to get fancy, because I had a lot of shots in hand.

“I punched out to the fairway, got it on the green with my third and two-putted for bogey. It really didn’t matter to me if I won by four shots or one; it’s all about the win.”

Follett-Smith was long considered one of Zimbabwe’s hottest young prospects ever since he won the national amateur championship.

Back home after a four-year stint at Mississippi State University, the Harare golfer joined the pro ranks in October and promptly won the NAC HIV & Cancer Pro-Am. Less than a month later he claimed a runner-up finish in the Cote d’Ivoire Open on the West Africa Golf Tour and lost to Sunshine Tour winner Peter Karmis in a play-off in the 3e Actuaries Open in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea in December.

Like most of the field, Follett-Smith is heading to the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School in March and he was pleased with his progress in the last four months.

“My results this season have improved and that gets me excited,” he said. “It felt really nice to get over the line and win by a comfortable margin. I am reaching greater consistency, and that’s been the goal all along. Even struggling off the tee, I scrambled well enough to win and that is encouraging.”

Former IGT Challenge Tour winners Kyle Barker and Jason Roets carded respective rounds of 67 and 68 to tie for fifth on 12 under, while Anton Haig produced a blemish-free eight-under 64 to pocket the R500 prize for the low round of the day.

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