Iyeneobong “Iyene” Essien says she is very proud of representing Nigeria.
The Nigerian teenage golf prodigy said this in an interview with Cable News Network, CNN.
“I’m really proud of representing my country because I’m making a name for myself and for my country,” said Iyene in the interview.
Iyene started representing Nigeria at age 11 at international competitions across the US, UK, and Africa including Morocco, Botswana, and South Africa.
Now 16, she is the No.1 ranked junior girls’ golfer in Nigeria and has won more than a dozen trophies after placing in various competitions.
In late July, Essien clinched second place in the Under 19 Girls division at the Champion of Champions World Championship in Northern Ireland.
“It was a really good experience for me,” she said. Finishing five strokes behind first, Essein says she is proud of how she played.
“Everything happens for a reason — even though you come second or third, it means that you’re getting closer and closer to first,” she said, noting the experience of playing on a world-renowned course was a win in itself. “The fact that I could play on the same course as Rory Mcllroy played on and be in the same vicinity of all that history was really very important to me.”
As she continues to make a name for herself and her country, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is taking notice.
Following the tournament, the president’s adviser released a statement saying 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.
Time and time again, Essien has proven she isn’t afraid of a challenge. While she often finds herself competing against older players, she says it actually “gives me even more motivation just to do better.”
She says her positivity and drive is inspired by one of her greatest role models, Tiger Woods.
“He has shown a lot of resilience in the game,” she said, noting his efforts to push through a series of injuries and career setbacks. “He just keeps playing golf and he really loves the sport, even though he’s not winning.”
Essien is not the first Nigerian golfer to have to look elsewhere for role models. Georgia Ohoh, the first Nigerian to play in the Ladies European Tour, previously told CNN she had to turn to tennis to find inspirational athletes.
That’s in part because golf is far from the most popular sport in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Golf Federation, there are only 58 courses in the country.
With a budding career ahead, she also hopes to pave the way for other Nigerians for follow in her footsteps.
“I hope my achievements and where I am right now in golf can actually motivate Nigerians who want to play golf,” she said, leaving aspiring golfers with this piece of advice: “work hard and keep a good mentality because everything happens for a reason and in due time, everything will go your way.”