By Angela Ukomadu and Abraham Achirga
ABUJA/LAGOS (Reuters) – A steady “thwack” rings out at the driving range just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja. A girl clad in pink shoes, pink skirt and pink vest wields a club with a power that belies her slight frame, grimacing at poor shots and smiling happily at others.
Iyene Essien’s golf medals already outnumber her 13 years of age, and she has competed on three continents. She is the top junior player in Nigeria, and now wants to deliver her country’s first gold medal for golf at the 2022 Summer Youth Olympics.
“In this game you compete against yourself and not other players, which is very exciting,” she told Reuters, adding that anything that goes wrong “is still your mistake, you are the one playing so you cannot blame your caddy or anyone for the mistake you made.”
Her journey began when she saw a young white boy playing at the IBB International Golf and Country Club in Abuja. Her father saw her excitement and quickly arranged to get her on the course.
“He asked me if I wanted to play and I said yes, so he bought me clubs and got me a golf professional to train me,” she said — the same man who was training the white boy.
Her first medal came quickly, at the age of five. She now has 17 medals and has represented Nigeria 11 times at tournaments in Africa, Europe and the United States.
Poised and precocious, Essien was the only teenager among 177 golfers at the 2019 Nigeria Ladies Golf Open Championship. She took 10th place, shyly high-fiving the other competitors as the crowd cheered.
Her father, consultant economist Eyo Essien, says she is just getting started.
“She still has some room for growth and I think as I said by the age of 15 she will be ripe, you know, to take the golf world by storm,” he said.
But Essien said she is committed to balancing school and golf, and intends to study artificial intelligence and robotics at university.
“In the next 10 years with a degree in my hand, I will play as a professional golfer,” she said.
(Writing by Libby George; Editing by Hugh Lawson)