SANTA ANA PUEBLO – Here’s something you don’t see everyday at a golf course in New Mexico: Class of 2018 Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher hitting balls next to country singing star Darius Rucker.
The duo was at Santa Ana’s driving range Monday morning preparing for the New Mexico Grande Slam charity golf tournament. Just off to the side was event host Notah Begay III, the four-time PGA Tour winner and Golf Channel analyst, working with children eager to learn from the homegrown former pro.
Begay welcomed the opportunity to teach the young players, as the event’s focus is on New Mexico’s children, he said. Who knows – he could be instructing the next great golfer to come out of New Mexico.
“I hope they’ll be better than me,” said Begay, the only full-blooded Native American to play on the PGA Tour. “You always want that next generation or the next great player to come from the area to be better than you. I hope that there is someone out there (from New Mexico) whether they are Native American or not.”
After Urlacher hit balls, he watched his friend Begay before being driven off to the golf course to play. Urlacher said he jumped at the opportunity to help out with the fundraiser that benefits Begay’s NB3 Foundation, as well as El Ranchito de los Niños, Keres Chidren’s Learning Center and Osuna Elementary.
Urlacher, the former University of New Mexico standout who played for Lovington High, said he has been keeping himself busy in Arizona with his three children, daughters Pamela and Riley, and son, Kennedy. He has slimmed down and does not sport a bald head as he did when he was the intimidating linebacker with the non-stop motor for the Chicago Bears.
He’s also been riding his mountain bike and golfing as he puts the finishing touches on his Hall of Fame speech, which he will deliver Aug. 4 when he is officially inducted in Canton, Ohio.
Of course, he will mention New Mexico in his speech, he said.
“It’s home, man,” Urlacher said. “This place gave me my start, gave me my
opportunity to play football, not only high school, but in college. UNM is the only school that offered me a scholarship. I don’t forget that. I love coming home. I love being here. People ask me where I’m from, I proudly say I’m from New Mexico.”
Urlacher went to a special dinner for friends involved with the tournament Sunday night at Begay’s home. It was also there that Rucker delivered an intimate performance.
Rucker, who is on tour with Lady Antebellum, said he had been too busy to attend Begay’s past two charity golf tournaments. Rucker, who first became famous with Hootie and the Blowfish, enjoys golf and has been wanting to help his friend.
“What Notah does for kids in New Mexico is just unbelievable,” Rucker said. “He does such an amazing job to help kids. I love being a part of that.”
Rucker said he isn’t bothered when people still call him, “Hootie.”
“It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes people do,” he said. “I’m just glad they still know who I am after all these years.”
Begay knows Rucker as a friend and was grateful both he and Urlacher could attend the charity golf tournament.
“It’s a reflection of what golf has done for me,” Begay said. “If it wasn’t for golf I would have never met these two guys. We are brought together by this game that frustrates us. So many people are attracted to this game that is defined by failure in a lot of cases. We’re not paying them to be here. They’re here because they believe in what we are doing. They are so generous with their time. That’s one of the biggest things someone can offer, even at the celebrity and professional level. We are all busy. For them to take two days out of their schedule and travel here and be here, it means so much to me.”
Begay said he expects this year’s event to raise around $350,000, exceeding the amount garnered the past two years, which was close to $300,000 combined.
“There’s a diverse group we’ve raised money for,” Begay said. “But the common bond is serving children in the state.”