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Begay gets top golfers to support his foundation

VERONA, N.Y. – Notah Begay III, the Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta four-time PGA Tour winner, recently announced the field for the third annual NB3 Foundation Challenge and it includes some of golf’s finest. PGA Tour stars Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and Hunter Mahan, along with LPGA greats Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, both of whom will be coming out of retirement to participate in the Aug. 31 event.

“It’s a dream come true for me, to be able to pick up the phone and assemble this kind of field,” Begay said. “To pull people out of retirement is very inspiring to me and makes me continue to want to do more for Native American youth and also to promote the game of golf.”

And, he said he didn’t have to twist any arms to get the players to come; all he did was ask.

“They’re not coming here because we offer appearance fees; they’re coming here because they have an interest in what we’re doing.”

Since 2005, the NB3 Foundation has been working to address health issues such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes facing Native American youth.

Ochoa does work similar to the NB3 Foundation in her home country of Mexico.

“She works with a lot of the poor Mexican communities, to a certain degree they’re indigenous; the only thing that happened is they stuck a border there. A lot of the indigenous traditions in Mexico are similar to the southwestern Native American tribes,” Begay said. “If we’re able to support her efforts down the road, we’ll certainly do that as well.”

The Challenge will be played a bit different this year, instead of a skins format like last year it will be a mixed team, best ball format with a total purse of $400,000. The winning two-some will split a first place prize of $100,000. Past events featured a Skins Challenge format with Tiger Woods capturing top honors in 2009 and Villegas edging Singh for the top spot in the 2008 inaugural event.

Begay said he didn’t extend an invitation to Woods this year because he has more pressing matters to attend to. Begay said he would “give him a year to work on whatever he felt was important.”

Also participating in this year’s Challenge at Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club on Oneida Indian Nation lands will be LPGA Tour professionals Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Anna Rawson and PGA Tour golfers Vijay Singh and Rickie Fowler, who is part Navajo.

Begay said he’s been wondering when the next Native American golfer was going to come along.

“He didn’t grow up on the reservation, but his parents are very well aware of his cultural roots, his grandparents are still very traditional. He certainly is a huge talent; he’s the future of the PGA Tour,” Begay said. “It makes me even more proud that he’s Navajo, I encourage him to learn more about the traditions and culture of his people.

“I am extremely grateful to have some of the world’s top golfers from the men’s and women’s game join me at this year’s event and support the foundation’s mission of empowering Native youth to sustain active, healthy and productive lives,” Begay said. “Through their involvement and the partnership of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, the NB3 Challenge will continue to fuel our commitment to the long-term battle to ensure that Native American youth are given the opportunity to be healthy and be engaged in positive activities that can promote their well-being and success as young adults.”

Proceeds from the 2009 NB3 Challenge helped Begay and the foundation make its first major impact in Indian country when it broke ground on the first phase of a $750,000 soccer field and community park in the San Felipe Pueblo in May. The park will be the pueblo’s first recreational facility in its history, and will be the future home for the San Felipe Soccer Club – a program the NB3 Foundation has operated since 2005 for more than 200 Pueblo youth.

Along with the soccer program, the foundation has established a number of golf initiatives, including a partnership with To’hajiilee High School, a Navajo Nation community school in New Mexico. The foundation has also delivered golf curricula to the school’s students and has implemented summer junior golf programs and clinics in New Mexico and in other tribal communities across the country.

Begay originally thought of starting the foundation while he was sidelined from golf by a herniated disc.

“I didn’t play golf for close to a year; that was when I started doing a lot of motivational talks on reservations and I just saw a lot of children after school sitting around. I said these kids obviously want to do something; they were either staying home and getting more unhealthy or they were getting involved in gang activities, vandalism because that’s all that was available. … that’s when the idea began to formulate in my head.”

But does he regret having missed out on more wins had he not been injured? Begay said he would never change any of it.

“There have only been three players to win multiple tournaments their first year, Tiger, Phil Mickelson and myself. … then I incurred this really bad injury. Many people ask ‘do you regret what happened to you?’ I would never change it; it’s made me more committed to people across Native America. I lived a life that was golf-centric; I had very selfish aspirations. There’s so much more to life than my golf score, now I just want to serve my communities and serve people, whether it’s entertaining them on the golf course or providing sustainable programs for Native communities.

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