Tokyo 2020

Slovenian Teenager Not Intimidated by Olympic Moment

Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik & Annika - Day Two
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - JUNE 11: Pia Babnik of Slovenia acknowledges the crowd on the 9th hole during the second round of The Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik and Annika at Vallda Golf & Country Club on June 11, 2021 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)
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“Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re not,” says Pia Babnik of the artwork she creates as birthday gifts for her friends and family. Many could say the same of their golf shots. But considering Babnik, who hails from Ljubljana, Slovenia, is already a member of the Ladies European Tour at only 17 years old, it’s doubtful that she could relate.

In fact, she’s no stranger to success on the golf course. Babnik had her first taste of professional golf at the ripe old age of 12, competing and making the cut in the Belgian LETAS Trophy, an event that’s part of the LET Access Series. She had a stellar junior career and locked up her card at LET Qualifying School ahead of the 2020 season and she’s already carded a win in her short professional tenure, defeating Annabel Dimmock in a playoff at the Jabra Ladies Open earlier this season.

“I was really happy with my win in Jabra,” said Babnik. “It definitely gave me some confidence and made me think that I am doing the right things. The final day didn’t start the way I expected. It was great that I came back. I was just focusing on myself. It just happened and I’m really glad that I got that win.”

But the crowning achievement of the Slovenian’s career so far is shaping up to be a berth in the Olympics with Babnik set to compete in Tokyo in just a few weeks.

It’s quite an accomplishment for anyone at any age to be able to represent their country in such prestigious company. But with her youth and brevity in the world of professional golf, it’s that much more impressive.

If you consider the ages of other competitors in the Games, 17 might not seem like that much of an outlier. There are plenty of teenage athletes, Babnik’s age and younger, who  will suit up for their countries in Tokyo and who have been training for years to do so, expertly honing their crafts with a single, quadrennial goal. Some would be considered “past their prime” once young adulthood sets in.

However, in golf, being a 17-year-old — even one who’s a professional competing as a member of one of the bigger tours in the game — hardly qualifies you as an expert. You’re either the wonder kid that immediately fits right in at the highest level or you spend your formative years trying to learn the ropes of Tour life.

Babnik seems comfortable with her position so far at this early age. Perhaps it’s her youth that allows her to have such a cavalier attitude, but she isn’t putting any undue pressure on herself, simply hoping to give it her best effort and just enjoy the moment.

“I will definitely try to do my best at the Olympics,” said Babnik. “It is not up to me how it will end. I will try to focus on myself and then we will see how it goes. It doesn’t really matter how old I am. It is nice to be young and to be able to play in the Olympics so easily and also to be able to play there again in the future.”

Ever the competitor, having grown up playing tennis, badminton, and padel, a racquet sport similar to paddle ball and popular throughout Europe and Latin America, Babnik will be teeing it up at the Amundi Evian Championship before heading to Japan, eager to spend some time with the world’s top players and her fellow Olympians at a major championship.

“I’m going to see some of the players in Evian and will see them again at the Olympics,” said Babnik on competing in France next week. “I’m looking forward to seeing them practice and being around them.”

Any other teenager would be starstruck by the company she’s in, eager to pick the brains of the best in the game. But you won’t see Babnik trying to imitate others’ practice styles or preparing any differently for competition in Tokyo.

"I’m just going to carry on doing what I have been doing up to this point.”

Considering her success so far, that’s probably a good idea.

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