Jahaanvie Walia’s golf career started because of a sibling rivalry – and maybe a little childhood jealousy.
When she was about 5 years old, Walia wanted to be a ballerina. Unfortunately, growing up in Lusaka, Zambia – a country in south central Africa – there was no ballet school for her to attend. But her mind changed about that dream when her older brother, Abhinav, brought home a shiny trophy one day.
“And I was like, ‘I want one!’” Wallia said with a big laugh. “My dad said I need to play golf for that, so I picked up a club.”
Now, more than a decade and a half later and a move halfway around the world, those golf trophies and accolades are there for Walia, who is a fifth-year senior getting her Master’s of Business Administration at Louisiana Monroe where she’s also a standout golfer. She sits tied for 11th in the Women’s Individual Division after the second round Tuesday at the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship at Union League Liberty Hill and The Union League Golf Club at Torresdale.
The decision to chase her golf dream was life-changing for Walia, who moved from Africa to the United States to play at Alcorn State in Mississippi. She earned team MVP as a freshman, then later transferred to Louisiana Monroe, and last year finished third in the PWCC’s Women’s Individual Division.
Her brother, who played at Bethune-Cookman and Albany State, had already made the trans-Atlantic trek. That gave Walia someone to lean on from an experience standpoint, but she was still alone and without family in Mississippi when she first arrived.
Partly because of that, though, the move has helped Walia mature as a person and develop as a player. She showed that last summer when she went home and won the Zambia Ladies Open, which attracts many of the best African women golfers.
“It’s part of growth. You learn,” Walia said of moving to the U.S. “I wouldn’t change this experience. It’s been great. I’ve learned so much about myself, met different people, seen different cultures. I’m just enjoying the journey to be honest with you.”
Where that journey lands her next is still unknown, although she plans to give the mini-tour circuit a try once her college career is finished. Ultimately, though, her goal is to provide golf opportunities for underprivileged kids in Zambia.
“My end goal is to have a golf academy back home and give more people the opportunities that I have,” she said. “My brother and I weren’t lucky enough to know about the different golf opportunities, so coming to events like this, the PGA WORKS, we learn so much.”
And part of what she’s learned by playing in the PWCC and attending accompanying events like the PGA WORKS Beyond the Green career exploration events is that more people like her are needed within the golf industry.
“[PGA WORKS] is having a big impact here in the U.S., and I think globally, too, because we do need more diversity in golf,” Walia said. “At my university, I’m like the only player who’s not European. … It’s definitely nice coming here and getting a different feel and a home vibe, [because] different cultures is what I grew up around.”
“We see a lot of people have this dream and then they can’t get to the U.S. because of financial burdens or just no support,” she continued. “So it’s something that I think, if not me, then who is going to make the change?”