5th February 2018 | IGT Challenge Tour

Follett-Smith seizes State Mines lead

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

Lali Stander

BRAKPAN, 5 February 2018 – 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.

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.

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