When pro golfer Oumou Dieye first started competing against men, she felt intimidated. They didn’t want to play with her, she says, and they didn’t take her seriously.
But then, in her first match, she won.
After that, she had all the confidence she needed to keep playing — and beating — the boys.
Now, as the only professional female golfer in Senegal, she competes almost exclusively against men.
As she makes her way through the baobab-lined golf course in Saly, she greets the other golfers — they’re all men.
“Now, I’m used to playing with men. I train in the morning, noon and night. I’m in the gym three or four times per week,” she said. “So, that also gives me more confidence.”
Dieye turned professional seven years ago. She has placed in dozens of competitions around the world, including in Thailand, Kenya and South Africa.
She was introduced to golf by her brother-in-law and immediately fell in love.
“Golf is a complete sport,” she said. “You walk, you think, and you concentrate. And it’s physical, too.”
Not long after she began competing, Dieye was given an opportunity to train in Morocco.
With the financial support from her French golf partners in Saly, she spent three months training with the Moroccan Golf Federation. She said she was so inspired that she ultimately returned to Morocco and stayed for seven years. During that time, she continued training and taught children at the Moroccan youth golf academy.
Fast forward to today, and her home is overflowing with trophies and medals. When asked how many competitions she has won, she can’t answer.
“I’ve lost track,” she said.
Her accomplishments are particularly noteworthy considering Senegal is a conservative, Muslim nation where women are discouraged from participating in sports, especially at the professional level.
“When you’re Muslim, we prefer to keep girls at home, to find them a husband and make them a housewife,” she said.
More than 95% of Senegalese are Muslim. Though the country practices a more liberal version of Islam that allows women to drive and forgo head scarves, traditional notions of gender roles persist — a woman who chooses sports over domestic chores risks being shunned by their family.
Dieye’s family wasn’t initially supportive of her golf aspirations, but they came around after seeing how passionate she was over the sport. They allowed her to leave Dakar to move in with her brother-in-law near the golf course in Saly, which is about a two-hour drive away.
Now, Dieye lives with her four children and husband, who not only plays with her but often helps out as her caddy.
When Dieye returned from teaching and training in Morocco in 2018, she was disappointed by how little developed golf was in her home country. She yearned to create an academy similar to the one in Morocco so she could help young golfers and grow the sport on her home turf.
“In order to develop golf, we need to focus on the kids,” she said.
The Senegalese Golf Federation was founded in 1991, and there are now some 30 professional players countrywide. But the federation struggles with a lack of funding, and there are only two golf courses in the country — one of which is privately run and partially watered. The other is all dirt.
In 2020, the federation agreed to help Dieye establish a golf academy in preparation for the 2026 Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar. It would be the first Olympic Games to ever be held on African soil.
The project was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is expected to restart this year.
Dieye will be tasked with training Senegal’s first national golf team, with a special focus on preparing the female golfers, including her daughter.
“Girls will be part of it (the training) on an equal basis like boys. And that will be something that I think we are prepared and committed to do,” said Baidy Agne, president of the Senegal Golf Federation. “And Oumy also has that vision and is committed to promoting girls to give them opportunities as girls, to help them get to the level that they can be.”
Women constitute a majority of the population in Senegal, Agne added, and they must not be left behind.
“Oumy can be a very good role model for these girls,” he said.
Dieye says she hopes to find a sponsor so she can continue to compete internationally and bring the next generation of Senegalese female golfers into the fold.