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Sixteen-year-old Club Champ cuts swathe on the green

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Sixteen-year-old Jessica Bennett started playing golf regularly only in 2021. So she was overwhelmed when she won the ladies division of the 18-hole Gauteng Provincial Club Champs on 26 September.

A member of the Killarney Country Club, Bennett beat Club Champs from other Gauteng clubs by carding 38 points, two more points than had she achieved her handicap, according to the Stableford scoring system.

“I really didn’t expect to win, so I’m surprised, but I have to say I was very proud of myself for the way I played and also for the fact that I haven’t played golf for that long,” says Bennett.

The Grade 11 student at Kingsmead College in Rosebank, Johannesburg, qualified for this tournament courtesy of her victory in the 36-hole women’s B division at Killarney Country Club’s Club Champs in May this year.

“When I played that tournament in May, I really wasn’t expecting to win at all – I just played it for the fun of it,” says Bennett. “Winning it was something that made me believe I could really get good at the game. It was a two-day tournament, and after the first day, I was at the top of the leader board. I actually shot a lot better on the second day than I did on the first because I had learned from mistakes I made on certain holes. In golf, you have to believe in yourself. It’s a very difficult game to play if you don’t believe you can play it.”

Bennett now has the chance to be crowned the ultimate Club Champ in South Africa when she competes in the national tournament against Club Champs from nine provinces.

Her enthusiasm for the sport stems from her dad, who has been a member at Killarney for more than 20 years. “As my grandpa was also a member there, my dad has wanted me to play golf for so long. He bought me my clubs at the beginning of 2018, and I played two or three times a year during that year and in 2019.

“I was pretty good, and had a lot of potential. I believed that because I played a lot of ball sports – not to sound arrogant, but I’m quite a sporty person in general – if it was something I could practice, I could get quite good at it.”

She started swinging her clubs a bit more after the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in her school sports – tennis, water polo, swimming, and netball – being cancelled. “Golf was just something I could do during COVID-19 and something I could do to spend time with my dad, which was also really nice.”

Over the past few months, Bennett has been going for lessons every week and playing two games on the weekends to improve.

“It’s more like a fun thing for me, and I really enjoy it because I’m quite good at it. It’s also something that I feel I can keep improving on.”

If she does keep improving her game and succeeds in bringing her handicap down, she would ultimately like to get a scholarship to study overseas after school.

“I know there’s a lot of scholarships for women golfers in America, and they want to recruit women golfers from overseas. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go pro, but that’s what I would like to do – just to get to the point where I would be eligible for a scholarship.”

The golfer she looks up to is her dad. “He is a good golfer so if I did make it on to the PGA tour, he’s someone who I would love to be my caddie. He’s very supportive of me, he really inspires me, he also motivates me to keep getting better, and he helps me. He got me the clubs, takes me to my lessons, and is a very important figure for me to get better at golf. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without him.”

Golf aside, Bennett used to play the drums. “When I started high school, I didn’t have the time for that. I try to prioritise academics. It’s quite important for me if I want to get a scholarship overseas because golf isn’t necessarily going to be the only thing that’s going to take me there. Golf is like my primary hobby at this point, but otherwise I focus on school and trying to get good marks at the end of Grade 11.”

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