Notah Begay III has been in elite company all his athletic life, as we were reminded on Tuesday.
The four-time PGA Tour winner and current television commentator on golf is one of the four athletes to be inducted into the 2022 class of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) National High School Hall of Fame.
The other three?
• The late Walter Payton, still regarded by some as the best-ever NFL running back;
• Sanya Richards-Ross, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field;
• Thurman Thomas, a running back who already has been inducted into the College and Pro Football halls of fame, as has Payton.
The induction of those four, as well as three coaches, three former state association administrators, one official and one debate coach, comes July 1 at the NFHS summer meetings in San Antonio, Texas.
“It causes me to reflect on just how lucky I’ve been in my life to have the coaches, teachers, my parents, family and the Albuquerque Academy,” Begay told the Journal’s Steve Virgen on Tuesday. “They have all gotten behind me and supported me in my pursuit of my dreams.”
“Of course, those dreams were primarily related to golf but they have branched off to my work in television and nonprofit work. I’m just very lucky to come from the community of New Mexico,” added Begay, who is in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, preparing for the Golf Channel and NBC’s telecasts of The Players Championship, beginning Thursday
“Our community, we care deeply for each other. There’s a bond that we all share in growing up in our state and we are all very proud of each other when we achieve a positive thing. And this is a positive thing for the state and for high school sports.”
Begay is well known for his TV work, for still being the lone full-blooded Native American to have played on the PGA Tour, and captaining the 1994 Stanford team to the NCAA title. But prior, he played on the first two (1989 and 1990) of Academy’s six consecutive basketball state champions. Those two same years, he was the champion in state golf (1A-3A).
Begay also was all-state in soccer and was New Mexico’s high school athlete of the year as a senior.
In 2005, he established the NB3 Foundation, its focus on health and wellness education to Native American youth in the form of soccer and golf programs.
Payton, for whom the NFL Man of the Year award is named, grew up in Columbia, Mississippi. Thomas was a high school football star at Houston’s Willowridge High before going on to stardom at Oklahoma State.
Ross attended St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Florida before stardom at the University of Texas and winning gold medals in three Olympics (2004, 2008, 2012).