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Notah Begay inspires native Americans

Begay shows off his Canon Greater Hartford Open trophy. Allsport.

Out on the golf course where Notah Begay got his start, 16-year-old Dominic Sanchez was inspired to practice.

``Now I have a goal,'' he said Monday, ``to come and make New Mexico something, if I can do the same as him.''

Sanchez works at the Ladera Golf Course, a municipal track on Albuquerque's west side, the same course Begay grew up on. The only American Indian on the PGA Tour, Begay won the Canon Greater Hartford Open on Sunday, his second consecutive victory and fourth in 10 months.

``Notah came through right at the end and made that putt,'' said Sanchez, who watched on TV as Begay sank a 25-foot putt on the final hole for a one-stroke victory over Mark Calcavecchia. ``We started clapping, jumping up and down, we were real happy.''

Begay's father, Notah Begay Jr., was not glued to the television watching his son Sunday. He was caddying for his younger son Greg, who was competing in a city tournament. Word of Notah's win came from his wife over a cellular phone.

``All I heard was a scream. At that moment there was joy in my heart, tears in my eyes and lumps in my throat. I was very happy for a young man that has worked so hard and gone through so much,'' his father said.

Begay's story topped the sports section of Monday's Albuquerque Journal, ahead of Wimbledon, a local golf story, a feature on Olympic athletes and a sports column. Up to 5 percent of the population of the greater Albuquerque area is American Indian, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Begay's wins make him the first player to win consecutive tournaments since Tiger Woods last year. Begay was a teammate of Woods' at Stanford.

``Tiger's been a great asset as my career progresses because he's probably one of the one or two most recognizable people in the world,'' Begay said Sunday. ``I'm just hoping to be the most recognizable guy in Albuquerque.''

Begay, 27, is never too far from his New Mexico roots. He has returned to Albuquerque to conduct golf clinics for children and work on his game in between tours.

At Ladera, where about 100,000 rounds are played each year, there are plans to build a pavilion featuring a Notah Begay room, which will display some of his golf memorabilia, said Sam Zimmerly, the course manager.

Zimmerly said he expected Begay to win Sunday because ``I know he's mentally tougher than most people out there.''

Begay is rebuilding his confidence after pleading guilty earlier this year to a drunken-driving charge. He spent a week in jail, then missed five cuts in 10 tournaments after that.

Overcoming his personal problems and the death of a close friend last week added to his resolve to win.

Sanchez has been golfing for a year and a half, and is a member of the Junior PGA and the golf team at Valley High School. He said he met Begay at a Christmas party last year. Since then, he said, Begay has given him a lot of advice.

The most important: ``Stay with your goals. You can make it if you really apply yourself.''

 

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