England’s Ben St John took the first step towards emulating last week’s victory by his best friend Andrew McArthur, shooting a flawless four under par 67 at St Laurence Golf in Finland to share the first round lead in the SK Golf Challenge with fellow Englishman and Walker Cup player David Horsey and Frenchman Jean-Nicolas Billot.
St John shared a room with McArthur for four years at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina and after seeing the Scotsman claim his maiden Challenge Tour victory in last week’s Reale Challenge de España, St John has made an impressive start in his bid to make it a double for the college friends.
Birdies at the first, eighth, tenth and 18th, where he finished his round off with a beautiful eight iron to ten feet, put the 28 year old from Woodcote Park GC in a share of pole position. As well as befriending McArthur, St John also grew up playing amateur golf in the same Surrey team as the likes of Ross Fisher and Ross McGowan, both of whom are making their US Open debuts today, and another European Tour Member Zane Scotland and is looking for good week in Finland as he strives to join them at golf’s top table.
“It was a fantastic win for Andrew last week and he was supposed to come and stay with me on Sunday afterwards but missed his flight with all the celebrations,” said St John. “It definitely gives me extra drive knowing that he has won now. It’s nice to see your friends do well and gives you an added incentive. And when you see the likes of Ross Fisher and Ross McGowan, who I played amateur golf with, playing in the US Open, that spurs you on as well.”
Horsey similarly didn’t drop a shot in the testing conditions in Finland, battling wind and showers to post a matching four under par 67 for a share of the lead. Horsey turned professional after playing for Great Britain and Ireland in last year’s Walker Cup and immediately joined the International Sports Management (ISM) stable that manages the likes of Darren Clarke, David Howell and Lee Westwood. Last week Horsey was practising with another ISM stablemate, Richard Finch, and any advice this season’s two-time European Tour Champion imparted seems to have paid off.
“It was a very solid round and it is always nice to keep a bogey off the card,” said the 23 year old Englishman, who picked up two top tens early in the season. “The conditions weren’t easy but I gave myself a lot of chances. It’s nice to get off to a good start and get a score under my belt. I just need to keep playing as I am and give myself opportunities.”
Billot, on the other hand, was far from consistent in posting his 67, mixing an eagle and five birdies with two bogeys and a double.
Denmark’s Soren Juul produced the shot of the day, holing-in-one on the 16th hole with a five iron 16th hole with a 5 iron. Unfortunately the Hole-in-One prize of an Audi S3 was for the first ace on the 14th. Juul’s three under par 68 put him in a share of fourth place with Swede Joakim Rask and Argentina’s Emilio Dominguez.