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New pro Follett-Smith off to fine start at State Mines

He’s only been in the pro ranks for four months, but it hasn’t taken 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, and 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 changed 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.

Picture of Follett-Smitch courtesy of CJ du Plooy

First Round Scores
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
63 – Benjamin Follett-Smith (ZIM)
64 – Peetie van der Merwe
65 – Philip Geerts (ITA)
66 – Jade Buitendag, David Mofokeng (LES), 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
71 – Jaco van der Merwe AMA, Tristan Brice AMA, Pieter Moolman, James Pennington (SWA), Bradley Diggeden AMA, Bennie van der Merwe, Luke Brown AMA, Quintin Crause, Teboho Sefatsa
72 – WM Coetzee AMA, Roberto Lupini, Mpho Mafishe, Andi Dill, Tristen Strydom, Kyle Barker
73 – Matthew Rushton, Zabastian de Jager, Anton Haig, Andrew Plint AMA, Bradley van Biljon AMA, Albert Visser
74 – Francois Blaauw AMA, Tiaan Diederiks, Divan Marais, JP Rousseau AMA, Werner van Wyk, Dylan Docherty, Wayne Stroebel, Alrich Labuschagne, Alwyn Smith AMA, Dewald Stander, Scott Chambers AMA
75 – Paul Colditz, Jack Duthie, Louis Botha, Michael Schutz, Stephan de Beer, Aneel Kallan AMA, Thabi Ngcobo, Steven Lecuyer (CAN), Ruan Korb
76 – Nic Watson, Eric Nel, Nqobani Ndabambi, Angus Ellis-Cole AMA, Banele Motloung AMA, Leon Vorster AMA
77 – Deon Bredenkamp, Leon Visser, Morne du Plessis
78 – Michael Van Rooyen, Jadrick Fourie AMA, Ryan Woolley AMA, Stephen Forsyth AMA, Daniel Joubert, Allan Jirek AMA (CZ), Christopher van der Merwe AMA, Jens Hillerman AMA
79 – Chase Paton AMA, Paul de Beer, Neville Mitchell AMA
80 – Sam Metcalfe AMA, Michael Pfeifer AMA, Michael Dreyer
81 – Donald Makhafola AMA, Jason Ackerman AMA
84 – Adam Cooper, Andrej Skrbinsek AMA
93 – Phillip de Waal
RTD – John McClean (NIR)