(Editor’s note: Recently, Notah Begay III had a couple of interview sessions with longtime Journal golf writer Mark Smith, who has covered Begay’s since he was one of the nation’s top junior golfers and has followed his career through his days as an All-American – and roommate of Tiger Woods – at Stanford and a touring pro.)
He is moving back to Albuquerque.
Truth is, Notah Begay III never left. Emotionally at least.
While Begay moved to the Dallas area a few years back, he is heading back home. He said he and wife Apryl purchased a home in Albuquerque’s North Valley, where they will live with their two young children.
That will give Begay plenty of time to be hands-on with his NB3 Foundation – a charity based in the Duke City he started 10 years ago – as well his Rio Grande Charity Slam golf tournament. The latter is a major fund raiser for his foundation as well as the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque.
Begay, 42, said the tournament, set for June 25-26, raised just under $100,000 in its debut last year and he hopes to exceed that at this year’s event on June 25-26 at Santa Ana Golf Club.
The graduate at Albuquerque Academy, where he was a three-sport standout, is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour and an analyst on Golf Channel. He has had a hectic year that included a heart attack.
Journal: Why did you decide to move back to Albuquerque?
Begay: Moving back to New Mexico has always been something I had hoped would happen. Now I’m getting the chance to re-engage with some of the so many people that have been there for me over the years, and have done everything to help me. All my family is here, my good friends are here. This is where I learned to play basketball, to play soccer to play golf. I just want my kids to have all the experiences I had in school here, and see what growing up in New Mexico is all about.
Journal: Your golf career started when you were a youngster at Ladera, which has a beautiful tribute and banquet facility in your name. How much does that mean to you?
Begay: I would never have made it to where I am without Ladera Golf Course and the Zs – (former Ladera pro) Don Zamora and his family and the Zimmerlys (current Ladera pros Sam and Wright). They have done so much for me and for so many others. A lot of people don’t understand how much they have given to young people to help them learn the game, get off the streets and stay out of trouble. That tribute they have at the course means the world to me.
Journal: You’re probably the biggest golfing success story the city has ever had. But there are a lot of others who don’t get the recognition.
Begay: Exactly. There are so many guys who came up through Ladera, like Marcus Molina, my brother Clint and so many kids, The Zs put us to work at the course and helped us learn the game, taught us responsibility. They mentored us.
Now guys like Marcus and Clint are working with programs to help other young kids. Clint is doing so much for programs on reservations, like at (the) To’hajiilee program.
Journal: Let’s talk about your upcoming tournament. You have Johnny Miller again, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Chris Doleman – (and) you’re trying to get Brian Urlacher back again?
Begay: Brian wants to come. We’re trying to work it out. We have a real good lineup and some great sponsors. We are still looking for a couple more sponsors. It is growing, It takes some time, but we are going strong just two years in.
Journal: And Tiger? Is he coming next year?
Begay: I don’t see any reason he won’t. It’s going to come down to scheduling. June’s not a great month for him, so we have to rework a few things. He supports this event and every other thing we do. It’s just a matter of working out the dates and giving him enough lead time to adjust his schedule.
Journal: Did you like what you saw of his game at the Masters? Is it out of the question that he can win another major down the road?
Begay: It’s not out of the question for him to win one this year. He’s got two really good chances. At Chambers Bay, where the U.S. Open is, nobody’s played there so everybody’s going to be at square one. And he’s won two Open Championships at St. Andrews (for the British Open). He knows the golf course, he loves the golf course. He’s not going to have to hit a lot of drivers at St. Andrews, and right now that’s the one club that’s costing him some of his struggles.
I loved what I saw from Tiger at the Masters. He is looking forward to the U.S. Open, and he’s trying to emphasize a gradual improvement in the majors. He really wants to have a chance to contend again, and I am sure he will. I think we will see a much better performance from him at the U.S. Open than in The Players Championship.
His biggest challenge, is just getting tournament reps. He was a little rusty, which is to be expected, and he still finished 17th at the Masters. He can still play.
Journal: You guys were roommates and have always been close. When you talk, do you guys talk much about his game?
Begay: Lately, we mostly were talking about college golf, which has been fun. He’s real supportive of Stanford, and we were both really excited about the Stanford women winning the national championship and the men’s team. It’s a fun time when we talk. We reminisce.
Journal: Now that you’re on the other side of the ropes as an announcer, is that difficult?
Begay: It’s a challenge, because sometimes it requires me to be critical of my peers. That’s our job. We have to provide objective opinions and feedback of what we’re seeing. If a player doesn’t execute a shot because their technique wasn’t right, or it was a bad decision or the pressure got to them, we really have to identify that as the cause. And its tough, because some of these guys are my friends,
Journal: Is broadcasting something you plan to do for a while?
Begay: I just renewed a five-year deal, so yes. I get to broadcast the Olympics next year.
Journal: The Olympics? That had to be a boyhood dream.
Begay: It was somebody’s boyhood dream – it certainly wasn’t mine (big laugh). But I’ll take it. It’s really exciting.
Journal: Ever since you were young, you’ve always said how much you wanted to give back to the city. How much does doing this event mean to you?
Begay: It’s incredibly important. Teaming with the JCC, we feel we can make a difference for young New Mexicans. We have such wonderful supporters, and to give us the use of this world class facility here at the Santa Ana Pueblo means so much. We’re so appreciative of … all our sponsors.
Journal: What is your main goal of the Rio Grande Charity Slam?
Begay: The important thing is I would like to make people aware that this wellness issue affects them. It’s not just coming and playing a golf tournament and playing with celebrities. … Thirty-three percent of the kids in the country are technically classified as obese. One in two kids born after the year 2000 in Indian country will attract diabetes. If you look at numbers, the average family spends 10 percent of their income on health care – and it’s not going down. The poorer the health, the greater weight it puts on our health system, and the poorer performance kids have in classroom. All of those links are not conducive to building a better New Mexico.
Journal: Speaking of health, how is yours?
Begay: I just passed my one-year anniversary for my heart attack. I’ve lost weight and completely changed my diet. I’ve also implemented a non-negotiable 30 minutes of cardio per day. That’s been the difference along with diet.
Journal: So many New Mexicans who make a national name for themselves leave and never come back. What are the main reasons bringing you back?
Begay: This is just such a great state, and I’ve always been proud to call it home – even when I wasn’t living here. I want to do all the things with my kids that my parents did with me; take them to boxing matches, basketball games, cross-country meets. I want them to understand the history of the Four Corners, western New Mexico and the southern part of the state. We have great tradition here. I have a home in a beautiful part of the North Valley. This is where I want my family to be. It’s my home.