HARARE – The fear of being another golf amateur who turned pro too early must have been at the back of Benjamin Follet-Smith’s mind as he teed up last week in his first tournament as a professional.
That he could go on to spend years struggling on mini-tours even made his impromptu decision all the more frightening.
But there was nothing amateurish about his game as he negotiated Royal Harare Golf Club with the confidence of a seasoned pro en route to clinching the National Aids Council (Nac) HIV & Cancer Prevention Drive Pro-Am tournament by some eight strokes.
The $6 000 cash prize honeymoon is now over as he tees it up today at the Cote d’Ivoire Open hoping to reciprocate that form and push more illustrious campaigners into the shade.
The Cote d’Ivoire Open title has been won by some of the world’s top golfers, including Vijay Singh, Ian Poulter, and Gary Player.
If anything, the tournament will give Follet-Smith a better sense of where he stands in the global talent pool.
“I am obviously excited about the tournament and just want to do my best,” Follet-Smith told the Daily News.
The 23-year-old admitted that his jump into the money game was not an easy decision.
“I had a chat with (professional golfer) Gary Thompson before the Nac tournament and asked him what he suggests. He gave me advice to turn professional and I took it and won my first tournament,” he said.
“I wanted to stay amateur a bit longer maybe play in big tournaments get more experience and better my world ranking.
“I could then sign for high contract with a management company but that is in the past now. I don’t regret turning professional. I was going to do it anyway.”
Follet-Smith is not short on ambition either.
“My main aim now is to be in the world’s top 10. I played with Jason Dufner and Justin Thomas and they are now some of the world best.
“It doesn’t blow me away it actually shows me that I can get there.”
While he dreams big he will certainly not be short of inspiration after his performance at Royal Harare Golf Club in which he was a cut above the rest in a tournament he led from start to finish before posting a closing round of 71 for tournament 14-under-par.
The Mississippi State University student finished eight shots ahead of his closest rival, Stephen Ferreira whose final round of 71 left him on five-under-par.
Simon Katembenuka closed with a 70 to finish in third place on four-under-par.
However, the day belonged to Follet-Smith who made his intentions clear early on with an audacious opening round eight-under-par 64.
He followed that up with a sizzling five-under-par 67 which opened an eight stroke lead and left him starring at victory going into the final round.
Barring a miraculous late surge from the chasing pack, the 23-year-old had enough cushion to play for par.
He, however, went one better to add to his trophy cabinet that includes the 2017 Chattanooga Choo Choo Invitational tournament.
But Follet-Smith will be the first to admit that despite that early promise, only time will tell if he made a successful jump to the pro ranks.