Notah Begay III speaks fondly about his latest project, a junior tour in New Mexico and surrounding states that will give young golfers in his home state more opportunities to compete.
There’s potential for the tour to become high profile and for junior golfers to gain exposure and national ranking points because of Begay’s name on the tour and because of the partnership with the Sun Country Junior Golf Tour, which has events in New Mexico and El Paso.
Golf changed Begay’s life and has seemed to always be there for him in the best of times and during dark days. He was recently named to the inaugural class of the Albuquerque Academy Hall of Fame, reminding many of the remarkable story of the 1990 graduate who went on to become a three-time All-American at Stanford, the Cardinal’s No. 1 golfer on its 1994 national championship team, and a four-time PGA Tour champion, as well as the first full-blooded Native American on the tour.
Begay’s friend Tiger Woods was on that Stanford national championship team. Begay remains in Woods’ circle of friends. It was a fearful time on Tuesday when Woods was involved in a single-car accident in the Los Angeles area and suffered multiple leg injuries.
“I was devastated by the news of Tiger’s accident but am hopeful that he’s on the road to recovery,” Begay said on that topic this week.
This weekend, Begay, 48, is at the World Golf Championship event at Concession Golf Course in Bradenton, Florida in his role as a broadcaster for the Golf Channel.
He keeps his home, Albuquerque, in mind. He lives here with his three children, Antonella, 13, Santiago, 11, and Paloma, 4, and wife of 15 years, Apryl.
With a project like his new junior tour, Begay says his drive comes from his desire to give back.
“I want to continue to pay it forward for some kid growing up without a whole lot in Albuquerque that makes it to Stanford and makes it to the PGA Tour and is now in network broadcast television,” Begay said. “This is my home, man.”
Last year, Begay started the Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship. That became a challenge because of the corvonavirus pandemic, which wiped out the planned local qualifiers. This year, he is responding with the NB3 Junior Golf Tour. Begay recently helped raise $400,000, he said, for food, water and COVID-19 relief for Native American families and typical families in Albuquerque. His NB3 Foundation had food drives at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
There are plans for a qualifier at Ladera Golf Course, where he first played and learned, with top finishers advancing to a regional at Stanford Golf Club, Begay’s home course in college.
The opportunity to provide junior golf with a nationally televised event increased Begay’s passion for the event. Last year’s NB3 Junior Golf National Championship aired on the Golf Channel. Albuquerque’s Aiden Krafft, a junior at Cibola High, tied for seventh in the boys’ 14-18 age division.
“It was a great experience to meet Notah,” Krafft said. “I learned a lot from him. His tournaments are great. He’s just a really good guy to be around.”
Begay has helped Krafft during his college recruiting process, which is appreciated because the pandemic prevents Krafft from visiting colleges. Krafft believes Begay’s junior tour can help other up-and-coming golfers gain exposure and college opportunities.
“It’s harder for New Mexico kids to get recognized by colleges because we’re pretty limited on our tours out here,” Krafft said. “We’re limited on national rankings. That’s what Notah is trying to help out with, which is great. I would have to go to other places like Arizona and Texas to go get nationally ranked. But now I can start doing it here because of Notah.”
The NB3 Junior Tour is scheduled to begin with the Las Cruces local qualifier at New Mexico State University Golf Course May 22-23. The New Mexico Regional Qualifier is scheduled for Aug. 6-7 at Twin Warriors Golf Club.
Event dates on the NB3 Junior Tour and Sun Country Junior Tour do not conflict, said Reese Carson, the Sun Country director of player development who is also in charge of the Sun Country Junior Tour.
As part of the partnership, Sun Country will have 24 exemptions into the NB3 regional qualifiers.
“He wants to get New Mexico kids involved and he figured what better way to help build a relationship with our junior tour and his junior tour?” Carson said. “It’s awesome. Notah is known in New Mexico and he is known all over the country. He grew up playing golf for the Sun Country Junior Tour that’s still around. He comes back and plays in the New Mexico Open quite often. The fact that he has such a huge following, I think it’s huge for us to build that relationship together.”
The events are open for boys and girls in two age divisions, 13-under and 14-18. Golf Channel again will air the NB3 Junior Golf National Championship.
Begay said he wants his tour to be accessible to all junior golfers from various backgrounds “to break down barriers around access.”
“We have a great junior golf community within New Mexico and the Sun Country section,” Begay said. “The Sun Country Junior Tour has done a wonderful job. We’re working in unison with them. We’re not a competitor. We’re trying to help each other. We’re trying to keep these kids in the game because it’s a game that teaches you so many wonderful things about life.”