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Begay at NM Open: “Don’t count me out”

 

Notah Begay III has been eager to play in the 20th annual New Mexico Open, which teed off Tuesday and continues through Thursday at Sandia Golf Club.

The day after the tournament ends, the Albuquerque native will turn 46. He is hoping for an early birthday present with a good performance this week. He finished tied for 17th at the San Juan Open, a 72-hole event at San Juan Country Club in June.

The four-time PGA Tour winner said he doesn’t have the skills he once had, but wants to support the N.M. Open. He last played in the event in 2012. He won it in 1998.

The NBC Sports and Golf Channel analyst is among the field of more than 150 golfers from all over the nation at this year’s Open. He shot a first-round par-72.

The field is competing for $85,000, with approximately $14,000 of that going to the champion.

Begay and the Journal recently traded texts.

QUESTION: What compelled you to play in the New Mexico Open?

BEGAY: The first reason is that an athlete never loses their competitive spirit and drive. Although I’m nowhere near the player I was while playing the PGA Tour full time, I still love to get out and test my skill against the young guns. Secondly, the Sun Country PGA Section, which hosts the Open, is doing so many great things for junior golf and kids that I wanted to support their efforts. I’ve seen firsthand what golf has done for many of the ‘at-risk’ kids we serve through the Notah Begay III Foundation and to use my platform in golf to promote kids and sports is a “no-brainer.”

QUESTION: How were you able to get time off from the Golf Channel?

BEGAY: The date just happened to fall in between the last two FedEx Cup playoff events (hint, hint). If the event was scheduled this way every year I would play every year. But the past couple years the NM Open has been held during one of the playoff events and thus my obligations to NBC Sports & Golf Channel prevent me from playing.

QUESTION: What memories do you have of the New Mexico Open?

BEGAY: Wow! The NM Open takes me all the way back to the days when I was parking carts at Ladera, which hosted the event in the 80s. I watched John Kienle and Steve Haskins go into a playoff to determine the winner. On the third hole at Ladera I remember Kienle rifled in a wedge shot that rattled off the pin! There had to be at least 25 carts and a couple hundred spectators following that playoff. It was high energy and I knew I wanted to play pro golf at that point. If it wasn’t for head pro Don Zamora, who gave me that job at Ladera, I would have never had this experience and probably wouldn’t have made the PGA Tour. The NM Open played a critical role in my development as a golfer.

QUESTION: What are some of the challenges you face now when you play the game?

BEGAY: There are two main challenges that I face when I play golf now. The first is the level of expectation I have for my game. I know that I’m capable of world class golf but don’t have the time to practice. If you don’t practice you don’t play well. It’s very simple. So I have to temper my expectations and just try to play within myself, which is tough at times. The second challenge I face is due to lack of competition and at 45 my body has slowed down and the speed I need to hit it with the young kids isn’t available. So, I need to use my experience and be a little more efficient in scoring. But don’t count me out. I may just surprise the boys!

Notah Begay III has been eager to play in the 20th annual New Mexico Open, which teed off Tuesday and continues through Thursday at Sandia Golf Club.

The day after the tournament ends, the Albuquerque native will turn 46. He is hoping for an early birthday present with a good performance this week. He finished tied for 17th at the San Juan Open, a 72-hole event at San Juan Country Club in June.

The four-time PGA Tour winner said he doesn’t have the skills he once had, but wants to support the New Mexico Open. He last played in the event in 2012 and won it in 1998.

The NBC Sports and Golf Channel analyst is among the field of more than 150 golfers from all over the nation at this year’s Open.

The field is competing for $85,000, with approximately $14,000 of that going to the champion.

Begay and the Journal recently traded texts.

QUESTION: What compelled you to play in the New Mexico Open?

BEGAY: The first reason is that an athlete never loses their competitive spirit and drive. Although I’m nowhere near the player I was while playing the PGA Tour full time, I still love to get out and test my skill against the young guns. Secondly, the Sun Country PGA Section, which hosts the Open, is doing so many great things for junior golf and kids that I wanted to support their efforts. I’ve seen firsthand what golf has done for many of the ‘at-risk’ kids we serve through the Notah Begay III Foundation and to use my platform in golf to promote kids and sports is a “no-brainer.”

QUESTION: How were you able to get time off from the Golf Channel?

BEGAY: The date just happened to fall in between the last two FedEx Cup playoff events (hint, hint). If the event was scheduled this way every year I would play every year. But the past couple years the NM Open has been held during one of the playoff events and thus my obligations to NBC Sports & Golf Channel prevent me from playing.

QUESTION: What memories do you have of the New Mexico Open?

BEGAY: Wow! The NM Open takes me all the way back to the days when I was parking carts at Ladera, which hosted the event in the 80s. I watched John Kienle and Steve Haskins go into a playoff to determine the winner. On the third hole at Ladera I remember Kienle rifled in a wedge shot that rattled off the pin! There had to be at least 25 carts and a couple hundred spectators following that playoff. It was high energy and I knew I wanted to play pro golf at that point. If it wasn’t for head pro Don Zamora, who gave me that job at Ladera, I would have never had this experience and probably wouldn’t have made the PGA Tour. The NM Open played a critical role in my development as a golfer.

QUESTION: What are some of the challenges you face now when you play the game?

BEGAY: There are two main challenges that I face when I play golf now. The first is the level of expectation I have for my game. I know that I’m capable of world class golf but don’t have the time to practice. If you don’t practice you don’t play well. It’s very simple. So I have to temper my expectations and just try to play within myself, which is tough at times. The second challenge I face is due to lack of competition and at 45 my body has slowed down and the speed I need to hit it with the young kids isn’t available. So, I need to use my experience and be a little more efficient in scoring. But don’t count me out. I may just surprise the boys!

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