eorgia Oboh doesn’t bother with mediocre ambitions. Should the 19-year-old hit even a fraction of her immediate targets, the world of golf will owe her a debt of gratitude. When the Nigerian is asked about her aspirations, the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics feature heavily. So, too, a rapid rise. “Gaining my LPGA Tour card, winning on the LPGA, winning a major,” Oboh explains. “I like to set my goals high but attainable. I want to be on the path to No 1 in the world.”
Even more intriguing than these bold claims is that Oboh embraces her role as a pioneer. If South Africa is well known for its golfing heritage, the remainder of the continent has had no noticeable status at all; especially among women. Oboh wants to lead from the front.
So things are changing. It is going to take time and persistence
“I want to show that Africans can compete in sports usually dominated by other countries,” she explains. “These are all just building blocks for juniors to look up to. Being a role model for Nigerians and Africans is one of my goals as a professional golfer. It is not just about me being successful, it is also to help grow the next generation following me. Having a role model really helps with motivation.”
Oboh’s own was Lorena Ochoa, after an encounter at the 2009 Women’s Open. “She spotted me in the crowd and threw me a golf ball. That’s when I knew was going to be No 1 in the world.”
This week, the first Nigerian to earn a card on the Ladies European Tour will tee up in the Ladies Scottish Open. Oboh was “honoured” to receive a sponsor’s invite. Characteristically, she aims to compete at the summit of the leaderboard.
Having spent the majority of her childhood in London and Manchester, Oboh could have played under an England flag. She instead remained true to her heritage. Oboh’s parents, so integral to her sporting journey, had emigrated in their 20s. “At the time Nigeria was still under military rule,” she says. “They did their master’s in England after doing degrees in Nigeria. A lot of their friends and family also moved to England.
“Culturally we are strong Nigerians. As I got older I really started to connect back with the country. I see the differences I can make representing Nigeria. It would have been an easy choice to play for England or Great Britain but nothing comes easy. I feel Nigerian at heart, it is in my blood. That’s never going to change, it is part of who I am. I am a Nigerian first and foremost, we don’t shy away from our roots.”
Georgia’s father, Godfrey, was introduced to golf by his mother as a means to alleviate the stresses that came with owning a convenience store in central London. Soon the sport became a key part of his life. “He brought my mum in and they became very competitive,” Oboh recalls. “It was a family game for us. I ended up being in the buggy at three or four years old because they were playing about an hour from home in London and otherwise they would be rushing back to let the babysitter leave.”
If this all seems perfectly normal – endearing, even – it belies the fact that British golf is dominated by white males. Attitudes remain, in some cases, prehistoric. “If younger people were the majority of members at clubs, they wouldn’t be this way,” Oboh says.
It seems inevitable the Oboh family would have endured a few horrible moments. “I am sure my parents felt like the odd ones out back then,” Georgia adds. “They don’t mind the stares, they don’t mind looking ‘odd’ or people asking questions. They just wanted to play golf and to be as good as they could possibly be at it. They wanted me to be challenged. Golf is a game of great challenge. We have been through a few things together. Maybe because we moved clubs a lot, when one thing happened we brushed it off and moved along.
“I never felt that different from anybody else. I wasn’t recognising any differences, whereas now I look back and think: ‘OK, that’s what was really happening.’ It differs by club and environment. Sometimes there was a bit of discouragement from the ladies’ section or I would feel alone playing with boys.
“I do feel like now there are more people of African descent playing. At my home club, Whitefield in Manchester, a few days ago I ended up playing with a guy from Zambia. He told me they now have their own association of African golfers in Manchester and Sheffield. So things are changing. It is going to take time and persistence. We have to keep on striving to do better. It takes time to change perception but the fight is still on and the spirit is high.”
There is no denying Oboh’s own. Her journey will make for compelling viewing.