“I was offered a scholarship to Stanford and my golf coach had never seen me hit a golfball, believe it or not,” Begay said to a crowd of fellow inductees and their families. “He had heard about this Native American kid that was in a prep-school down in New Mexico, and could shoot some low scores and was a little bit off the cuff and a little bit crazy at times, and he came down and watched us play in the state high school basketball tournament at the pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wasn’t the best kid, the fastest, the tallest… but I was out there diving for loose balls, playing defense…and he goes ‘Wow this kid can play golf too? I want this kind of kid on my team.”
And in 1992, Begay (Navajo/Pueblo) was recruited to play at Stanford, the beginning of a notable career. That same year, he was named an All-American, and earned that title two more times, in ‘94 and ‘95. In 1994, he lead his Stanford team to the NCAA championship as a first team All-American. His career low score of 62 came during the 1994 NCAA championships, finishing one stroke over the school record held by a teammate, Tiger Woods. Begay graduated in 1995 and finished his career at the university with a stroke average of 72.6.
Begay, a big brother of sorts to Woods, who grew up as an only child, got to know him as a youngster.
"Let's go back 30 years ago," said Woods, roasting his long-time friend. "I was 9 years old, pretty hip with my Coke-bottle glasses. … We're playing the Junior World down in San Diego, Optimist Junior World. At the time I was the only one of ethnic descent playing, and it was a tough and lonely road. At 9 years old, Notah being the elder statesman at 12, he came over to me and introduced himself. He says 'I'm Notah Begay, I'm just like you, and you'll never be alone. You'll always have a friend.' And from that day on, we've been brothers for life."
Begay turned pro in 1995 and would go on to win four PGA Tours. Three years later, he joined the Nike Tour Dominion Open and shot a 59, something only a few golfers were ever able to achieve. Begay was a member of the U.S. Walker Cup team and the U.S. President’s Cup team. He is currently an analyst on NBC Sports and the Golf Channel. But, perhaps his most fulfilling accomplishment is working with the Native community.
“What he’s done for the Native American community and not just the awareness of type 2 diabetes and obesity, not even the money he’s raised, the millions of dollars,” Woods said. “But just think of thousands of millions of kids he’s impacted. He has a voice. And he’s used it… this goes to show you a person from humble beginnings just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, can do what he did through hard work, sheer determination, and such a great family.”
Begay walked on stage to applause from the crowd and a received a big hug from Woods. He said it was an honor to be inducted with fellow Cardinals, which included, Laura Granvilles, Nicole Barnhart, Heather Olson, Toi Cook, A.J. Hinch, Anika Leerssen and Skip Kenney.
He also thanked his parents, wife April and their two children before accepting the award.
“I owe so much of everything good that’s happened in my life to Coach Goodwin and his wife,” Begay said, “An ‘ole cowboy and an Indian getting together.”