A day in the life of a 13-year-old might involve video games, silly texts between friends and hours of bouncing between the coolest social media apps.
But Iyene Essien isn’t your average 13-year-old girl. As the top junior golfer in Nigeria, Essien spends much of her time on the green, perfecting her swing with each stroke of her club.
She already has 17 medals under her belt and is now focused on bringing home her country’s first gold medal for golf at the upcoming 2022 Summer Youth Olympics.
“In this game you compete against yourself and not other players, which is very exciting,” she told Reuters in a recent interview. Whatever goes wrong, she said, “is still your mistake, you are the one playing so you cannot blame your caddy or anyone for the mistake you made.”
In the next 10 years, Essien says she sees herself competing as a pro golfer. She also has plans to attend college and earn her degree, she said.
The prodigy’s interest in golf was first piqued when she spotted a white boy playing at the IBB International Golf and Country Club in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Seeing her excitement, her father quickly arranged to get her on the green.
“He asked me if I wanted to play and I said yes,” Essien recalled, “so he bought me clubs and got me a golf professional to train me.”
Her trainer turned out to be the same man who’d trained the boy she’d noticed before.
After earning her first medal at age 5, the young golfer would go on to represent Nigeria nearly a dozen times at tournaments across Africa, Europe and the U.S., according to Reuters. She most recently took home 10th place as the only teen competitor among 177 golfers at the 2019 Nigeria Ladies Golf Open Championship in November.
Ugandan golfer Irene Nakalembe clinched the title.
Essien’s father, Eyo Essien, couldn’t be more proud of his daughter and said she’s only 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.