When Nigerian Georgia Oboh began playing golf, she struggled to identify role models in her sport, so she took inspiration from elsewhere – in particular, from tennis greats Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.
“To see someone who looked like me playing at such a top level and is still doing so now was quite inspirational,” she told CNN Sport.
“For Naomi Osaka, she’s part of the new generation of tennis stars and top-level athletes. I just really connect with her in the sense that we’re trying to break through in all sports.”
Just like Williams and Osaka, Oboh was a teenage prodigy.
Earning her place on the Ladies European Tour (LET) aged just 17, Oboh became the first Nigerian to qualify for the tour.
Now, she wants to qualify for an Olympic Games and become the best golfer in the world.
“Being No. 1 in the world is a long-term goal,” she said. “I think in the short term, really I would be looking forward to potentially playing one or two majors even this year, improve my rankings and eventually play on the LPGA Tour.”
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Route to the top
Georgia was born in the northern English city of Manchester, and her parents played a key role in her picking up golf at an early age.
Her father was introduced to the game by his grandmother. He then got his wife playing, and it wasn’t long before six-year-old Georgia was wielding her first golf club.
She moved around, playing at different golf clubs and picking up new skills and experiences, which she believes has held her in good stead on her journey to becoming a professional.
“I ended up competing with girls and boys,” the 20-year-old remembers.
“And eventually, I started to play the US Kids European Championship and then the US Kids World Championship, which I won at age 14, and then I played most of my junior golf, to be honest, in America.
“So I spent a lot of my summers and winters abroad. And I like to think I had a broad range of experience playing golf in different countries and in different weather.”
Oboh’s final appearance as an amateur golfer came at the age of 17 when she traveled to Buenos Aires in Argentina for the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, finishing tied for 22nd position.
After a successful junior career, in which she won numerous trophies, Oboh entered into qualifying school for the LET. After making it through the pre-qualifier, she had a nervy wait on the final day of the actual event to earn her professional card.
“On the last hole, I had a par putt that would have put me on the knife’s edge,” she remembers.
“I made that final putt, and then it was kind of a waiting game to see whether I was going to make the cut or not. So it went down to last shots of some of the other players but, at the end of the day, I was able to make the cut and get my card in the end.”
Oboh turned professional in November 2018 and now hopes to appear in one or two majors this year as well as “improving my status and building my foundations up.”
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Growing the game
The LET describes itself as a “diverse and multicultural membership of 316 professional golfers representing 36 countries,” but there have been calls by players on the tour such as Inci Mehmet for more programs to increase diversity in golf.
“My main concern was playing the best I could,” said Oboh as she reflected on the issue of diversity in golf. “I’ve been to countries all over the world. But I don’t try and let things like the color of my skin or my gender stop me from getting to where I need to or want to be.”
While golf is part of the culture in many corners of the world, in Africa – outside of South Africa – it’s still a sport that is new to the continent.
South Africa has produced successful talents such as major winners Ernie Els, Gary Player, Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oostuizen on the men’s side and Sally Little on the women’s side.
But due to a lack of “investment and development” at the junior levels of golf, other African countries have not been able to produce golfers of the same caliber.
Oboh had the choice of representing the United Kingdom but chose Nigeria instead due to its connection to her heritage. She says her home course is the Ikoyi Club 1938 in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, and has won several awards in the country. She even won her first pro tournament in her professional debut at the Cote D’Ivoire Open.
As the first Nigerian to play on the LET, Oboh is aware that her accomplishment of reaching the Tour is “an achievement.”
But she is hoping that she can be an example for others, rather than a flash in the pan for Nigerian golf.
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“I don’t want to be the last Nigerian. We do have some girls in the wings, getting ready in probably five to seven years,” she said.
“So hopefully by then, it’ll be a different story. But just to be able to achieve Tour membership is in itself an achievement. And I don’t look at myself as the first to do this, the first to do that. Yes, I’ll put it on the list of achievements, but I’ve set my goals to the next generation.”