Ayene Essien: Will this teenage girl from Nigeria be the next female golf prodigy?

“(My father) was very surprised by my question,” she said. “He asked me if I really wanted to play the sport and I said yes and he got me a coach and I started playing golf.”

The rest was history.

Essien entered her first competition that same year and showed herself naturally, placing first in her age group. “I found it really cool,” she said.

By the age of 11, the golfer represented Nigeria in international competitions in the US, UK and Africa, including Morocco, Botswana and South Africa. Now she is 16, she No. 1 in the ranking a young Nigerian golfer who has won more than a dozen trophies after participating in various competitions.

“I am really proud to represent my country because I am making a name for myself and my country,” she said.

At the end of July, Essien took second place in the division of girls under 19 at World Champion Champion in Northern Ireland. “It was a really good experience for me,” she said. Finishing five shots behind the first, Essain says he’s proud of his game.

“Everything happens for a reason — even if you come in second or third, it means you are getting closer and closer to first,” she said, noting that the experience of playing on the world famous course was a win in itself. “The fact that I could play on the same pitch as Rory McIlroy and be in the same proximity to this whole story was really, really important to me.”

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is taking notice as she continues to make a name for herself and her country. After the tournament, a presidential adviser released a statement saying that Buhari “joins all Nigerians in celebrating this great teenager who is doing so much for the country”.

“It was really unexpected and I appreciate it,” Essien told CNN in response.

Following her dreams

Time and time again, Essien has proved that she is not afraid of challenges. While she often competes with older players, she says that it actually “gives me even more motivation to just play better.”

She says her positivity and drive are inspired by one of her greatest role models, Tiger Woods.

“He has shown great resilience in the game,” she said, noting his attempts to overcome a series of injuries and career setbacks. “He just keeps playing golf and he really loves the sport even though he doesn’t win.”

Essien is not the first Nigerian golfer to look elsewhere for role models. Georgia Ooothe first Nigerian to play on the Women’s European Tour previously told CNN she had to turn to tennis to find inspiring female athletes.
This is partly due to the fact that golf is far from being the most popular sport in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Golf Federation, 58 courses in the country. In 2012, it was estimated that there were only about 200,000 golfers out of more than 200 million people (by comparison, more than 25 million Americans played golf that same year).

Essien says the lack of a more established golf program has been a challenge, especially when it comes to funding.

She says her family played an “important role” in funding her career, but it was a “struggle” and she opines, “If I had a huge bank to work with, I would have done more competitions than I have over the years.” and won more. trophies.”

Wanting to take advantage of more opportunities, Essien, who was born in New York State but raised in Nigeria, returned to the US in 2021 to attend the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut.

Essien visited the British Open to watch her role model, Tiger Woods, compete in the tournament.

“Competition is high (in the US),” Essien said. The teen says that on a typical day, she usually works out for three hours after class, and it can be difficult for her to navigate the delicate dance between a professional career and being an “average” teen.

“Sometimes I really really want to go hang out with my friends, just relax and be a teenager. But there are also priorities. I have to remember that if I want to rank higher in golf or in school, I have to invest time in work,” she said.

Inspiring the next generation

In addition to becoming a professional golfer, Essien wants to get an engineering degree with a major in artificial intelligence.

“I’m hoping to get a golf scholarship at a (top) university … and if that becomes possible, I’m hoping to play in the LPGA,” she said.

She has a promising career ahead of her and also hopes to pave the way for other Nigerians to follow in her footsteps.

“I hope that my accomplishments and where I am right now in golf can really motivate Nigerians who want to play golf,” she said, leaving aspiring golfers with the following advice: “Work hard and keep a good attitude because everyone it doesn’t just happen.” and in due time everything will go your way.”

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