Notah Begay III (Navajo/Pueblo) has been able to navigate the professional golf world yet remain focused and able to walk in harmony.
The 42-year-old recently renewed a five-year deal with NBC Golf -- he first joined NBC full time in 2013 -- and will broadcast at the Olympics next year, when golf makes its debut there. He is also a full-time member of the broadcast team for the Golf Channel. As a player, the three-time All-American who led Stanford to a NCAA national championship in 1994 won four times on the PGA Tour.
ICTMN caught up with Begay to talk about Native American golf, and to get his thoughts on the first U.S. Open (on June 18-21, in Chambers Bay, Wash.) played in the Pacific Northwest in the 115-history of America’s national tournament.
The PGA Tour is going through a transitional period with the emergence of a lot of good, young golfers - Rickie Fowler, Navajo, included.
We’re seeing a complete changing of the guard. We have Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson. They play a powerful, distance-oriented game, and it’s wonderful for television.
Rickie Fowler became just the third player in the modern era to finish in the top-five of all four majors last year, but he’s still searching for the formula to turn top-five finishes into championships. What does he need to do to finally win a major?
Rickie is by far the best American Indian golfer in the world. He’s a remarkable player. [Winning a major] can happen any moment for a guy like Rickie. He’s made a lot of progress the last couple of years. The article in Sports Illustrated calling him one of the most overrated players in the world peaked his motivation and he turned around and goes out and wins at Sawgrass the very next week. I think he is one special week away from moving into the major championship category.
What about other Natives - Jeff Curl (Northern Wintu), who finished in a tie for 56th place at the U.S. Open in 2012, and Jesse Smith (Mohawk)?
Jeff and Jesse are the best Native American golfers that aren’t on the PGA Tour right now. Jeff has a tremendous amount of talent and learned a lot from his father [Rod Curl, who once held off Jack Nicklaus to win the Colonial National Invitational]. He’s battled a few injuries, but seems to be healthy now. If a few things go right for him, he’s not far away from breaking through to the PGA Tour.
Jesse is stuck on the mini tours right now. That’s a tough way to go, but if he hangs in there, he certainly has the talent to find success.
Are there any Natives to watch at the college level?
There’s not a lot of college players. One of the biggest hurdles for disadvantaged kids from poor backgrounds to play golf is having the facilities and access. But there are over 70 Native-owned golf courses in 48 states. A lot of these communities can help these young people, but they have to have programs that focus on the right things – developing leadership and character, along with golf ability. Unless we start to see more of it (instruction and development) in Indian communities across the country, we’re not going to see a lot of elite level Native golfers.
What’s your take on the U.S. Open being played in the Pacific Northwest for the first time in its 115-year history?
Having this country’s national championship will be a great experience for all of the golf fans in the Northwest and gives people around the world a chance to see how beautiful the area is. The layout at Chamber’s Bay is not a traditional type of layout. It’s a different type of feel, which I think is going to be interesting to watch.
Being on the West Coast, that means the latter rounds will be aired during prime time back East, which is perfect from a broadcast sense.