“(My father) was surprised by my question,” she said. “He asked me if I really wanted to play this sport and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he got me a coach and started playing golf.
The rest was history.
Essien entered her first competition in the same year and was a natural, first place in her age group. “I thought it was really cool,” she said.
At the age of eleven, the golfer represented Nigeria in international competitions across the US, UK and Africa, including Morocco, Botswana and South Africa. Now 16, she is the number one girl golfer in Nigeria and has won more than ten titles after competing 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 under-19 girls’ class at the World Championships of Champions in Northern Ireland. “It was a really good experience for me,” she said. After finishing five shots behind her first, Hussain says she is proud of the way she played.
“Everything happens for a reason — even if you come second or third, it means you’re getting closer and closer to first,” she said, noting that the experience of playing on a world-famous course was a victory in itself. “The fact that I can play on the same course as Rory McIlroy and be in the same environment for all this history was very important to me.”
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As she continues to make a name for herself and her country, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is taking note. After 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.
Chase her dreams
Time and time again, Essien has proven she is not afraid of a challenge. While she often finds herself competing against older players, she actually says it “gives me more motivation just to do a better job”.
She says her positivity and drive is inspired by one of her biggest role models, Tiger Woods.
“He showed a lot of resilience in the game,” she said, noting his efforts to push through a series of injuries and professional setbacks. “He continues to play golf and loves the sport very much, even though he hasn’t won.”
Essien is not the first Nigerian golfer to look elsewhere for role models. Georgia Ohoh, the first Nigerian to play on the Women’s European Tour, previously told CNN that she had to turn to tennis to find inspirational athletes.
This is partly because golf is not the most popular sport in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Golf Association, there are only 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 (for comparison, more than 25 million Americans played golf in the same year).
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Essien says the lack of a more established golf program is a challenge, especially when it comes to funding.
She says her family has been “vital” in funding her career, but it has been a “struggle” and believes: “If I had as much work to do, I would have entered more competitions over the years than I have did and won more awards.” “
Desiring to pursue more opportunities, Essien, who was born in New York state but raised in Nigeria, returned to the United States in 2021 to enroll at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut.
“The competition is high (in the US),” Essien said. On a typical day, the teenager says she usually practices for three hours after class, and it can be difficult to navigate between a professional career and being a “normal” teenager.
“Sometimes I really want to go out with my friends and relax and basically be a teenager. But there are also priorities. I have to remember that if I want to be in a higher place in golf or in school, I have to make time to work.”
Inspire the next generation
In addition to becoming a professional golfer, Essien wants to obtain an engineering degree with a major in Artificial Intelligence.
“I hope to get a golf scholarship to a (top) university … and if it becomes possible, I hope to play in the LPGA,” she said.
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With her budding career, she also hopes to pave the way for other Nigerians to follow suit.
“I hope my achievements and where I am now in golf will motivate Nigerians who want to play golf,” she said, leaving aspiring golfers with this advice: “Work hard and keep a good attitude because everything happens with a reason. And in time everything will go your way.”