Nigerian teen golf prodigy Iyene Essien is focused on her goal to become ‘the female African Tiger Woods’. She has been acing her game from when she was six.
By Peace Hyde
When Tiger Woods won the prestigious Arnold Palmer Invitational, a professional golf tournament
on the PGA Tour, in 2012 for the seventh time, little did he know he was inspiring a five-year-old, Iyene
Essien, in faraway Nigeria to pick up a golf club and play.
At the time, Essien’s dad took her to a golf club in Abuja and she was immediately hooked.
“I was fascinated and asked if I could play,” says Essien in an interview with FORBES AFRICA. Convinced, it was not long before her dad bought her golf clubs and hired a coach to take her through the paces.
Today, she is a teen golfing sensation.
After winning her first golf event by age six, Essien has consistently dominated the African golfing world and gone on to represent Nigeria at international competitions. She finished second in the Champion of Champions golf tournament in Northern Ireland, playing on the same course as golfing legend Rory Mcllroy and has also won the prestigious Hurricane Junior Golf Tour (HJGT) in the United States, twice.
The HJGT tour is a prestigious program that affords truly exceptional junior golfers between the ages of 8-18 the opportunity to play world class courses competitively; the perfect ground for Essien to hone her skills if she is to make her dream of becoming
“the female African Tiger Woods” a reality.
And as luck would have it, in 2017, Woods acquired a stake in HJGT to help grow the sport and expand it globally. According to Forbes, more than 30,000 boys and girls have competed in the
events that have produced close to 4,000 golfers since 2007.
“I look up to Tiger Woods because of his dedication to the sport and his ambition to keep going against all odds. He shows how passionate he is about the sport whether he is winning or losing,” says Essien.
Essien could very well be on the golfing legend’s radar if she continues her winning streak on the HJGT course.
It is no surprise that her long-term goal is to be able to play professionally full-time but Essien is pragmatic enough to invest in education as a back-up plan.
“Not everyone makes it to playing professionally so it is essential that I have a stable education before fully devoting my life to golf.”
She is currently attending high school at The Taft School in the United States (US). She is the number two player and also an member of The Taft School Girls’ Varsity Golf team – winners of 2022 Founders League High School Golf Tournament in Connecticut, US.
Golf is still an up and coming sport in Nigeria, a country that is dominated by football.
The current president of the Nigerian Golf Federation, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, has vowed to usher in a new era for golf. At the top of his agenda is positioning Nigeria to be a viable and attractive destination for international golf funding.
“There is about $4 billion worth of funding available for golf in Africa by 2023 and it is my duty to ensure we have the infrastructure here to attract that level of investment,” says Runsewe.
For Essien, the support from her family and friends has been crucial. Like most women in sports, even at the tender age of 16, Essien still has to deal with the stigma that comes with the territory.
“The challenges I’ve personally faced are people don’t really see me as a golfer. When I tell people ‘I play golf’, they don’t expect me to be as good as I am. Imagining a female to be good at a sport seems to not be the norm and it honestly doesn’t surprise me.
Everyone is majorly interested in male sports and female sports are seen as slow and boring.”
Boring or not, this Nigerian prodigy is determined to make her mark in the golfing world and if her recent achievements are anything to go by, she is aiming right.