AFTER recently celebrating the biggest win of his young professional golf career in South Africa, Ben Follet-Smith has set his sights on competing against some of the world’s top golfers in Europe and the United States.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Follet-Smith, who turned pro just over a year ago, claimed his maiden win on the Big Easy Tour in just his second start on South Africa’s main developmental golf tour at Kyalami Country Club in Midrand 10 days ago.
The 24-year-old rising star fired five birdies and an eagle for a four-under-par final-round 68 to seal a one-shot win on seven-under over Korean DK Kim and the South African duo of Cameron Moralee and Ruan Korb.
The win in South Africa came on the back of some solid performances on the Sunshine Tour and the local ZPGA Tour, where he captured the Harare Open at Chapman Golf Club in July.
Now Follet-Smith hopes to carry the winning momentum as he seeks to attain playing status abroad after entering the Qualifying School for the lucrative European Tour as well as the US-based Web.com.
The European and Web.com Tour qualifying schools are a series of tournaments which give some of the world’s most promising players — both professional and amateur — the opportunity to earn their place on the respective tours for 2019.
The former St John’s College student will get the ball rolling at the European Tour first stage qualifying event at the Golfclub Schloss Ebreichsdorf in Austria on Tuesday targeting to progress to the third and final stage in November.
He will then head to the US for the Web.com Tour Q-School first stage event where, if he is successful, he will earn a place on the main developmental tour for the money-spinning US-based PGA Tour.
Follet-Smith, who will later this year also seek to fight for a place on the Asian Tour, is relishing the challenge as he seeks to battle.
“My target is to make it to the final stage of both tours. I made the final stage at the Asian Tour Qualifying School last year and didn’t get through the first stage in Europe and I didn’t even try for the Web.com Tour,” Follet-Smith told The Sports Hub in an interview.
“This year is a big ask, I’ve got three qualifying schools and got to play well in all of them and hopefully get three cards which gives me conditional status on all three tours. This would be great as it would give me a chance to play in any worldwide events other than the Sunshine Tour. If I play like I’m supposed to play I will definitely be able to do it,” he said.
Follet-Smith said his recent win in South Africa was a major confidence boost as he targets a breakthrough in his fledgling career.
“Winning on the Big Easy Tour has obviously had a boost on my confidence since there are a lot of great players who won on the same tour and have gone on to win lots of Sunshine Tour events,” he said.
“Just knowing you can win, execute and get the job done is a positive thing because winning is hard regardless of how the competition is or who you’re playing against or any of that. Winning is just difficult, so being able to win at the end of the day is a great feeling and definitely a good confidence booster especially as I prepare for the Q-school events in Europe and America,” Follet-Smith said.
Winner of the 2012 All-Africa Junior Championship and a former Zimbabwe Amateur champion, Follet-Smith earned a golf scholarship at Mississippi State University, where he, in addition to further success on the golf course, graduated with a marketing degree.
After some initial hesitation, Follett-Smith decided to join the professional ranks and found immediate success, winning the National Aids Council Pro-Am at Royal Harare Golf Club by eight shots on his professional debut in October last year.
Follet-Smith continued his progression by claiming a runner-up finish in the Ivory Coast Open on the West Africa Golf Tour before claiming his first victory on South African soil when he went wire-to-wire on the IGT Challenge Tour early this year in February.
The talented Zimbabwean has also enjoyed some success on the Sunshine Tour, managing a tie for 12th in the KCB Karen Masters in Kenya and joint sixth in the Sun Wild Coast Sun Challenge a fortnight ago, which lifted him to 68th on the Order of Merit standings.
“I believe I have come out of my shell as bit as a professional and I’m moving forward, learning on the golf course and trying to keep myself composed throughout the round and that’s helped me recently. Obviously I’m practising very hard because I’m now focused solely on golf without having to also focus on my schoolwork or anything else.”
While delighted with his recent maiden win on the Big Easy Tour, Follet-Smith reckons he still has some work to do to get to the peak of the sport and one of the first steps includes earning his place either in Europe or the US.
“Winning the Big Easy Tour event was a goal of mine even though it’s not even near being the peak of the mountain yet. I think I’m still knocking at the bottom and I need to obviously work into winning a Sunshine Tour event, then maybe a co-sanctioned event or getting my European or Web.com Tour cards,” he said.