Carefree Begay brings different face to the game

Ken Jonesat St Andrews

One of the things that sets Notah Begay apart from the majority of tournament golfers is a sunny disposition. Another is what appears to be an uncomplicated appreciation of the good things that have happened to him.

One of the things that sets Notah Begay apart from the majority of tournament golfers is a sunny disposition. Another is what appears to be an uncomplicated appreciation of the good things that have happened to him.

Where others complain about the rough, pin placings, the weather, starting times, barely audible movements in the crowd, anything to excuse errors in shot-making, Begay at 27 years-old is consistently philosophical. "I was out there having fun," he said yesterday.

This, after dropping four shots over the last two holes at St Andrews, tumbling down the Open leaderboard from seven to three under. "Hey, for me this is a first," Begay added, "my first under par round in a major championship."

Standing on the 17th tee, Begay had a bigger first in his mind. "No mistakes from here and I could go off tomorrow as tournament leader," he thought. Maybe it would even mean being paired with Tiger Woods, his friend since they were together at Stanford University.

In trying to avoid a bunker, Begay, who had not been driving well, went left into knee-high rough. One thing led to another: more rough, then the dreaded burn. When Begay got to his ball it was laying in mud. Where others would have cursed, Begay just smiled. He'd been enjoying himself, so why spoil things. To use his words, why take a boring drop when he could entertain the audience?

Seeing Begay prepare to step into the burn, the gallery sent up a hearty round of applause. "I thought it was fun to go in there and get my feet wet and pitch out. I mean, you don't often get the chance to do that. I knew I could get the ball out and it's something I'll always remember."

Recently, Begay played with Jean Van de Velde and afterwards they fell into conversation about the Frenchman's famous adventures at the 72nd hole in last year's Open at Carnoustie. Apparently, Van de Velde's only regret, despite losing the Championship in a play-off, is that he didn't hit out of the burn. "That's what he said and I didn't want to regret not taking a chance, even if it meant an eight or a nine," Begay said. A cheer went up when Begay's ball came out and another when he made seven.

Doubtless, there are plenty of people who will argue that this isn't the way to succeed in major championships but, God bless him, Begay is refreshingly different.

That was evident throughout the round he played yesterday with Lee Westwood and Jeff Maggert, who soon found themselves hanging on to Begay's coat-tails. While Westwood wrestled, manfully it has to be said, with a course for which he has no great affection, Begay moved merrily onwards, the sun glinting on his gold ear-rings.

Begay has a pre-shot routine that high handicappers instantly recognise. It's as though the drills of a lesson are running through his mind. Grip, stance, bend forward from the hips, flex the knees, thing you're sitting on a high stool. Head still, one piece take-away. Stay behind the ball.

Begay's swing is not a thing of beauty but along with ambidextrous putting it has brought him four victories in less than a year on the US Tour, including back-to-back successes in the last month. He came to the Open from a fourth place finish last week at Loch Lomond.

Then there is his background. Half Navajo, a quarter Isleta and a quarter San Felipe, he was raised on a reservation in New Mexico.

One of Begay's big aims in life is to let his golf speak for all Native Americans. "There are more than 500 nations and I want to represent them all in the most positive fashion possible," he has said.

That wasn't quite the word on Begay when he was jailed for seven days after being convicted of drink driving. It was the longest week of his life, a salutary experience. "I thought about how lucky I was to be playing golf for a living, but I'd never realised how much it meant to me."

No wonder then that Begay could still smile. After the Old Course had come right back at him. Not only the three dropped shots at 17 but a bogey at the last, caused when his second shot found the Valley of Sin. Others might have cursed their luck. Begay simply blamed himself. "It was stupid," he said, "Just stupid." Earlier, at the eighth, he collected his fourth consecutive birdie to go five under. Better still, he eagled the par-four 12th with a 25-yard sand wedge. Another birdie at the 14th saw him leading the Open at seven under. "I had a beautiful round going," he said. "But I always seem to be putting myself through some sort of learning process. Things could have worked out better but you can't win on the first day."

It was something else Begay said that made you think plenty of tournament golfers could take a lesson from him. "What happened to me happens to someone every day. It was my turn."

With philosophy like that Begay could give professional golf a bad name.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
A referee issues a red card
football
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'