By Sohaila Barghash
Noor Ahmed is a sophomore on the women’s golf team at Nebraska and is believed to be the first Muslim to play college golf while wearing the hijab.
Ahmed grew up in Sacramento with Egyptian immigrant parents, she explains how she lost friends when she decided to wear the hijab at age 13.
She remembers saying, “Some people just said she’s not one of us anymore.” She found herself swinging into solitude.
However, the golf community embraced this young, talented teen, for instance, she recalls participating in The First Tee of Greater Sacramento and being extremely nervous about covering her head, yet “no one seemed to notice…. No one seemed to care. I was just the same kid. I was just Noor. It was the best response.”
The first Muslim athlete in Nebraska women’s golf history is on a newly discovered mission of exploration to spark change around her, showing whoever, wherever, she belongs.
Nebraska coach Robin Krapfl said, “She is an impressive young woman, I know she feels a responsibility to be a good role model for younger Muslim girls, but there is no doubt she is. I’m proud of her for embracing that responsibility and for the maturity she displays facing challenges she has to deal with on a daily basis.”
Kelli Corlett, one of Ahmed’s life skills coaches at The First Tee of Greater Sacramento as well as her chaperone when Ahmed was invited to speak at the First Tee Congressional Breakfast in Washington, D.C., two years ago, said, “I honestly can’t say enough positive and wonderful things about Noor, she’s poised. She’s certainly an incredible golfer. She’s extremely intelligent. She understands what it means to be a good person. She puts others first. She’s an absolute joy to be around.”
Noor’s parents often encouraged her and her younger brother Yusuf to pursue sports, as she put it, “athletics in general is a big part of Egyptian culture.”
Since their home was on the seventh hole of Empire Ranch Golf Club in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom, it was very convenient that Noor learns golf.
She said on the matter, “I was 8. I hated it. It was so hard. It was aggravating for me. Golf is the most humbling sport. It took me awhile to learn that golf is a sport in which you get out of it what you put into it.”
Noor wanted to quit several times, yet her father adapted a better method to encourage her, saying, “If you want to be good at something you have to keep trying.”
And as she took his advice, she started by setting small goals that are easier to achieve, and “fell in love with the process of investing and getting a return.”
Her father then provided incentives, like allowing her to carry a cell phone when she was finally able to beat him.
She said, “I worked really hard for five or six months, and I beat him.” Next, he promised her a smart phone once she broke par. And she earned that, too.
The hijab became a significant factor at golf tournaments. “For most people, I know they’ve never seen a Muslim woman in hijab before. There was the stereotype of not being from America. ‘What country are you from? Your English is really good.’ They assumed I was an international student. I feel like every time I step onto a golf course I have to prove that a Muslim woman can compete and compete in a hijab and compete well.”
Ahmed announced, “I’m 18 years old and I’m already tired of dealing with (racism). I might as well do something so I don’t have to deal with it for the rest of my life.”