“Trainers on TOUR have been great with offering guidance,” he continued. “Instructors, I pick your brains. Chris Como has been great. I’ll send him video and he’ll say, ‘Try this.’ My old coach, Bryan Gathright, has been great. I don’t know where this is going to go; it’ll come down to do I have the nerve to play at that level.”
A member of Stanford’s 1994 national championship team, Begay had that nerve and then some. He shot 59 on the Korn Ferry Tour; he won four times in his first two seasons on the PGA TOUR; went 3-2 for the 2000 US Presidents Cup Team.
Still, he is in some ways starting over. He’s been away a long time, and spent more time in the broadcast booth than on the tee. He knows that watching and talking about great golf doesn’t mean you can actually play it.
“What I remember about Notah,” said Eri Crum, a Stanford teammate, “is how good an athlete he was. Fantastic at basketball. You wouldn’t want to play against him in any sport or game like pool or Ping-Pong because he had great hand-eye.”
Oh, and one other thing from their days on The Farm:
“His laugh would light up a room,” Crum said.
If people have been great to Begay as he tries to reignite his career, it’s because he’s one of the good guys. When back pain made playing all but impossible, he turned a laser-like focus not just to TV but also his NB3 Foundation.
Begay puts on an annual golf tournament and even a cross-country race to promote physical activity, nutrition, and cultural connections amongst Native American youth. And when the pandemic prevented him from all pursuing that, Begay led a pivot in which NB3 raised more than $400,000 and delivered food and water to vulnerable rural communities in New Mexico.
“Places that in some cases don’t have water or electricity,” he said.
Among his other roles, Begay, a married father of three – ages 14, 12 and 5 – will captain the US Junior Presidents Cup Team at Myers Park CC in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 19 and 20, in the lead-up to the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow.
In other words, a comeback is going to be complicated. Does he have time?
“Believe it or not there are some windows,” he said from TPC Scottsdale, where he finished eight shots behind winner Michael Herrera (70-68). “The one thing I picked up during the last 10 years covering the PGA TOUR is just how good they are.
“I mean, even if I played my very best right now,” he added, “I couldn’t come close to beating most of the players out there.”
He respects how hard the game is, how good the competition is, and not just on the PGA TOUR, either.
A few years ago, Begay was having dinner with fellow NBC/Golf Channel analyst and former TOUR pro Arron Oberholser when the conversation turned to PGA TOUR Champions.
“Arron said, ‘The guys that do well out there come out sharp, and the guys that have struggled to go out and expect to find it or recapture it while they’re playing,’” Begay said. “What he imparted is don’t take it for granted that it’s just going to show up for you. You’ve got to earn it back.
“That’s why I flew (to Scottsdale) the week after a stretch of television where I wasn’t home for seven weeks,” he continued, “and I’m down here playing in a two-day APGA event. I need competition, and there are some very good players here.”
Tee to green, he said, he liked what he saw. The short game, alas, has been slower to return.
As for his back, I added, “It’s OK. I mean, it’s not getting better but it’s not getting worse. That was one of the main things is I needed to stress my back out through all of this.”
All of this means some state opens, probably Nebraska, plus an event in New Mexico called the San Juan Open in Farmington. He might do another APGA event, probably in San Antonio. He is signed up for local US Open qualifying at the New Mexico State course in Las Cruces.
“If I’m lucky I’ll get to sectionals, 36 holes of competition, which is so valuable to me,” he said.
After the FURYK & FRIENDS in Jacksonville, Florida, in October, Begay plans to tee it up at the SAS Championship in Cary, North Carolina. Beyond that, he’s not sure. He’ll see how his back feels, where the nerves are, where the game is at, and reevaluate.
He just won’t expect any pointers from the best players in the world, not even his pal Tiger Woods.
“I don’t think they’re going to give me advice; I think they’re going to give me grief,” Begay said with a laugh. “The old guy is trying to fire it up again.”