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Notah Begay arrested for drunk driving

American Indian golfer Notah Begay, arrested for drunken driving following a late-night parking-lot collision, said today he wants to take full responsibility and face the consequences.

"It's a cut-and-dried case of bad judgment," Begay said as he prepared to play golf at the University of New Mexico course. "It will not happen again."

He said he may quit drinking entirely.

Begay was arrested about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19 on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated and failure to keep proper lookout.

"It was a traffic accident in a parking lot, and Begay struck an unoccupied parked car," police spokesman John Walsh said. "The owner of the parked car was standing by the vehicle."

The collision occurred outside Billy's Long Bar, a popular Albuquerque night spot, Walsh said.

Aggravated DWI, a petty misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine, District Attorney Jeff Romero said. Judges may reduce the jail time, but the aggravated charge requires a person to spend at least two days in jail, he said.

Begay, 27, who lectured youth on the dangers of drugs and alcohol during a golf clinic last November, also visited with students this morning. He had been freed by police without having to post bail around 3 a.m.

Facing the students was hard "knowing that they look up to me," he said.

The arrest could affect Begay's six-figure endorsement contract with Nike, he said.

"If they do pull it (the contract), I deserve it," Begay said. "I'm not going to tell them not to. They've got a bigger agenda than me."

"We're going to stand behind Notah," Mike Kelly, director of marketing communications for Nike Golf said. "Notah Begay is a great person. He admitted he made a mistake. We will sit down with him and see if we can help in any way. He is great for the game of golf. He is great in his community and for Native Americans everywhere."

It also might have an impact on fans' view of him, he said.

"It's a negative impact, but I would expect nothing less," he said. "If you do something wrong, it shouldn't help you. You do something wrong, you pay the price. It's going to take some time to regain the confidence and support of some of my fans, and I'm going to lose some of them. That's just the nature of the beast."

Begay, the only American Indian on the PGA Tour, won two tournaments and more than $1 million during his rookie year, 1999.

This morning, he spoke at San Felipe Elementary on an Indian reservation north of Albuquerque. The children were unaware of the charges, he said.

"My mind was preoccupied with what had gone on, and I felt like I didn't really belong up there," he said. "It really hurts me inside to know that I made a mistake that big, and I don't want to perpetuate that sort of image to anybody, especially to the young kids."

Begay also said he doesn't expect to be treated differently because he is a well-known sports figure in New Mexico.

"I'm not backing down from anything," he said. "I want to be held accountable for what's gone on. ... Everybody makes mistakes. I'm not trying to ever tell anyone to try to get away with anything because that's not the way it's supposed to be done. ... I'm just not very happy with myself."

Asked if he planned to quit drinking, he said: "I have to re-evaluate my stance on that. I may consider not drinking, but who knows?"

Begay is a graduate of Stanford University, where he teamed with Tiger Woods. He graduated from Albuquerque Academy high school and often returns home between tournaments. He was on such a hiatus this week after playing in the first two PGA Tour events of 2000, both in Hawaii. He plans to rejoin the tour for the Phoenix Open next week.

He played golf today with Stoney Case, a former New Mexico and now Baltimore Ravens quarterback.

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