Virgen: Begay happy to be home with his junior golf event - Albuquerque Journal

Virgen: Begay happy to be home with his junior golf event

Notah Begay III proudly talked about his junior golf championship, which is in its third year and features the New Mexico Regional taking place Monday and Tuesday at Twin Warriors Golf Club. (Liam DeBonis/Journal)

With a demanding schedule for NBC Sports and Golf Channel, it would be of little surprise if Notah Begay III frequently asked the question: Where am I?

But by his content mood and wide smile he had Monday morning it was easy to see, he was home, at a special place and for a special event.

Begay, the four-time PGA Tour winner and the only full-blooded Native American to have played on the Tour, has loads of golf knowledge and experiences that can be worthy of a movie, and for sure more than this column.

Three years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic, Begay, one of Albuquerque’s greatest athletes, turned his attention to junior golf and remained dedicated to turning the spotlight to New Mexico and other places where golf is not really accessible to juniors or void of exposure for advancement.

At Twin Warriors Golf Club, Begay definitely could smile. His Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship is in its third year and has taken off. With the help of sponsors and local companies, like Realty One of New Mexico, he has had numerous qualifiers and regionals across the nation, giving many junior golfers more opportunities.

The New Mexico Regional, Monday and Tuesday, will have boys and girls age-division winners advance, too, to the national championship in November at Koasati Pines at Coushatta in Kinder, Louisiana, where each tournament will be taped by Golf Channel and later televised to a nationwide audience.

“Anything in New Mexico is really more important to me because I’m 100% invested in giving back to my community,” Begay told reporters at Twin Warriors. “I’m living proof that if you invest in young kids that don’t have a lot you can really create opportunities that they’ve never seen in their lives. I’m doing things in my life that I never envisioned. I always thought I would play golf, but being in television and an advocate for youth golf in the country, being the U.S. Junior Presidents Cup team captain – going to be overseeing the 12 best junior golfers in the United States next month – I would have never thought that for myself. And, here we are talking about those things.”

The New Mexico Regional is meaningful for Begay. Unlike other regionals, the boys’ 16-18 age division will have two qualifying spots, instead of one, for the national championship.

Last year, Quinn Yost and Aiden Krafft “tied for the best,” sharing top honors and didn’t bother to have a playoff because the friends knew they were advancing. They were also gaining exposure. Yost, the standout from Piedra Vista, used that exposure to help a secure a scholarship to Nebraska, and Krafft’s path from Cibola High to Oregon has also included Begay’s junior tournament.

Yost won Begay’s Junior Golf National Championship last year, when he shot 12-under 204 (73-64-67) to win by one shot and was featured on Golf Channel the following month. He signed his national letter of intent with the Cornhuskers not long after winning his national title.

This week, Yost and Krafft, along with Anthony Lara, of Anthony, N.M., and Vari Mariscal of Deming are representing the Sun Country section at the 50th Junior Americas Cup, on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ruby Hill Golf Course in Pleasanton, California.

Notah Begay III speaks to reporters at Twin Warriors Golf Club on Monday. (Liam DeBonis/Journal)

“No one would be able to see those kids if not for an event on a national scale,” Begay said of Yost and Krafft and his tournament. “What we’re able to do is to highlight the quality talent that we have here in New Mexico. If you’re a coach at a big golf school or have a big athletic program, you’re probably not spending your athletic budget to travel to New Mexico to scout talent. That’s just a guess. For us to be able to bring the talent to them, whether it’s through television or events, we sort of meet everyone in the middle, and that’s the best proposition.”

Who will be the next golfer from New Mexico to make a name for himself? Or herself?

Belen High’s Rylee Salome, who has had a sensational year featuring a Class 4A state title and the New Mexico-West Texas Women’s Amateur championship, is playing in the New Mexico Regional. She already qualified for the national tournament because she had the lowest score of all girls at state (3-over 145). She wanted to play at Twin Warriors anyway.

“I wanted to play on this course because there are quite a few tournaments here,” she said. “I just wanted to play and just to get as many rounds in. Plus, it’s a really good field.”

MID AM QUALIFIER: Devon Horne, an Albuquerque native and La Cueva High alumnus, won the Sun Country U.S. Mid Amateur qualifier Monday at UNM Championship Golf Course.

Horne, who played for Division III Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, shot 4-under 68 to take one of the two qualifying spots, advancing to the national event Sept. 10-15 at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

Trent Leon of Fort Worth, Texas shot 69 to grab the other qualifying spot.

PRO-SCRATCH: The three-man team of Len Zamora (PGA), Mike Taylor, and Bob Ernest won the Sun Country PGA Isleta Pro-Scratch on July 25.

Each team was made up of one Sun Country PGA Professional and two amateurs. Coincidentally, Taylor is the CEO of Realty One, which is the sponsor for Begay’s tournament.

The winning team shot a 13-under par 203. The three members of the team finished in the top-10 in their respective individual sweeps.

As a team, they went 2-under on Mesa, 5-under on Lakes, and 6-under on Arroyo.

Zamora is the general manager at Scott Park Golf Links in Silver City.

Devin Miertschin of Lone Star Golf Club in El Paso was the low professional of the day, at 7-under par for the event. Aidan Thomas, a former St. Pius standout who plays for New Mexico State, had the best amateur score, going 8-under par. Thomas is currently the leader in SCAGA player of the year points. He won the Spring Stroke Play and the NM-WT Amateur.

The Sun Country’s Section Championship will be at Isleta (Mesa and Lakes) on Aug. 8-9.

CHALLENGE CUP: After a two-year hiatus, the Sun Country’s Challenge Cup returned. The section’s top 16 amateurs, who won in 2019, beat the section’s 16 pros, 46.5-25.5, July 30 at NMSU Golf Course in Las Cruces.

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