Naomi Wafula, Tigress in the making

Photos of top youngest golfer Naomi Wafula taken on 23/06/2014. PHOTOS BY:JAMES WANZALA/STANDARD

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Naomi Wafula is barely 16, yet the form two student at Makini School is one of the top female Kenyan golfers, and probably the the next big thing in the sport. “I developed a desire for golf at the age of eight when my aunt and coach, Rose Naliaka, introduced me to the game. That was in 2008. I would go with Aunty Rose to the course and watch her play. I saw the many prizes she won and that inspired me,” says Naomi, who is one among 15 girls who are part of Rose Naliaka’s academy. The legendary Rose Naliaka, easily Kenya’s most feted female golfer of all time, formed the Naliaka Golf Academy (NGA) to nurture girls from humble backgrounds into top golfers as a way of giving back to the game that made her a superstar. Golf in Kenya is associated with the wealthy, corporate types, but Naliaka wants to change that stereotype by training disadvantaged girls who mostly come from the nearby Kibera slums. She trains them for free, occasionally providing them with lunch and transport back home after lessons. Naomi, one of Naliaka’s finest proteges, was first selected to play for the female national golf team aged only 12. The shy, soft-spoken teenager is poised to becoming one of Africa’s top golfers. Her most memorable awards are the 2011 SOYA Award trophy, the All Africa Challenge (Junior) Trophy (AACT) that she won in Botswana in 2012, and the 2013 JGF (Junior Golf Foundation) Top Girl of the Year.

“I am proud of the AACT Junior Trophy because I am the first Kenyan player to win it,” says Naomi. A typical day in Naomi’s life begins with a confidence-building activity like role play. The girls then practise public speaking and ‘confident walking,’ before taking their clubs and moving to the greens, where they work on their technique – putting, chipping and driving, depending on the programme of the day. “Golf is fun. I have passion for it and I look forward to the day I will turn professional to compete in different tournaments,” says Naomi, the youngest in a family of four, and who has already played in Scotland, UK and Germany. Born of a single mother, her aunt, mentor and coach, Rose Naliaka brought her from her home village in Kitale when she was about four years old and has taken care of her since. “I am forever thankful to Aunty Rose for everything she has done for me. I also thank Makini School directors for giving me a golf scholarship,” she says. In five years, Naomi hopes to play in the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) Tour, having developed and fine-tuned her hobby in what she calls “fine art”. She calls upon the government to support golf among children and adults.

“As it is, one has to be a member of a club to play. This is a problem. Golf Park, where I am a member, is the only public facility in Kenya where you can pay a small fee and play. The government should look into building public golf courses where children can walk in and play for free,” says Naomi. Makini School Principal, Lynette Manyengo, says Naomi is an above-average student, humble and respectful despite her status. “As a school, we insist that she manages her golf and academic work without slackening on either,” says Lynette.