April 5, 2012
by Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. -- Notah Begay III went to Stanford to play golf, but he collected more than birdies during his stay. Much more.
Not only did he help lead the Cardinal to an NCAA Championship in 1994 and go on to win four tournaments on the PGA Tour, Begay earned a degree in economics and is putting it to great use.
The 39-year-old Begay works tirelessly to promote better health and well-being for Native American youth. This passion led him to found the Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation in 2005.
Begay, who is half Navajo, one-quarter San Felipe, and one-quarter Isleta, is the only full-blooded Native American to play on the PGA Tour. He founded NB3 to help fight childhood obesity and diabetes among Native American kids, and has raised more than $3.2 million through his annual NB3 Foundation Challenge Golf Event to support various programs. Former Stanford teammate and close friend Tiger Woods is a regular participant in the tournament.
During the last three years, NB3 has reached more than 10,000 Native American children in 11 states through soccer, golf, and health and wellness programs. Begay's foundation helped the San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico build the tribe's first community park and soccer field.
Begay also started KivaSun Foods, a Native American company that sources products such as Native American bison, Pacific salmon, and sweet corn that tribes have sustainably farmed and fished for thousands of years. His dream is for KivaSun to become a "globally recognized brand and to reveal to a global audience what I have known my entire life: Native America's respect for its surrounding and reverence for food produces some of the best products in the marketplace."
Begay, who lives in Dallas with his wife and two young children, also established his own consulting business and designs golf courses. Begay's third creation, his first signature design, Firekeeper Golf Course near Topeka, Kansas, was recently ranked the best new course in the country by Golfweek magazine.
"I always knew that having a Stanford degree as an athlete was going to serve me for the rest of my life," said Begay. "It's just the way the environment at Stanford encourages students to solve problems. That's what life is and certainly business. I got be very close with the Stanford American Indian Organization and stay close with the program to this day."
During his college days, Begay was too busy trying to beat teammates like Woods, Casey Martin, Steve Burdick, Brad Lanning, and Will Yanagisawa to realize what an important opportunity and resource he had at Stanford.
"I don't think it's any coincidence that some of the best start-ups in the last 15 years are products of Stanford," he said. "One of the things that I kind of took for granted was that it was such an eclectic group of students that made up the student body, that promoted different ideals and challenged each other to try out different concepts. That's something that kind of led me into my own entrepreneurship."
Begay was recently selected the recipient of the Charlie Bartlett Award by the Golf Writers Association of America and received the award last night at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The award is given to a professional golfer for his/her unselfish contributions to the betterment of society. Former winners include Patty Berg, Arnold Palmer, Betsy King, Tom Watson, Payne Stewart, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Lorena Ochoa, Ernie Els, and Woods.
"That's a huge accolade for our organization," said Begay, who recently spoke at the "Building Healthy Communities" panel at the Clinton Foundation Health Forum at the Humana Challenge near Palm Springs, California. "Just like so many people that went to Stanford, we want to make an impact on social change. If we can't utilize the success, whether it's by financial or intellectual means, to improve society or our own communities, then it's kind of a selfish endeavor we're on.
"I've used all the experiences that I've acquired through golf and all the great people I've been fortunate enough to meet and tried to leverage those relationships into our foundation. And that's an inspiration that comes from Stanford."
Begay has always thought outside the box. He was the first professional golfer to develop a unique putting style utilizing a putter with playing faces on both the front and back of the head, allowing him to putt right-handed for right-to-left putts and left-handed for left-to-right putts.
Although Begay's playing career has been hampered by lower back injuries, when healthy, he's a force. He shot 62 in the second round of the 1995 NCAA Championship, and he fired a 59 in 1998 at the Nike Tour Dominion Open, one of only a handful of professional golfers to break the magic 60 number in competition.
"I'm going to try and get back out there full-time if I can," he said. "I'm much closer to the end of my career than the beginning--it's kind of a crossroads for me, so if there's any way that I can find a good enough position with my body to do it, I'm going to keep going."
Admittedly, his priorities have changed.
"I want to be a good husband and a good father," said Begay. "Golf is now a distant third."
Begay still keeps in close contact with Woods. For the third consecutive year, Begay will work at the Golf Channel during the Masters as a guest analyst.
"Our friendship hasn't changed from the day we met over 20 years ago," he said. "I've been there through the good times and the bad times, and hopefully now we'll see a resurgence in his game, which I think is great. But the important thing is I think he's evolved as a person and he's learned from his experiences and hopefully he will be able to impart that in his own life down the road."
Mark Soltau has been writing about amateur and professional sports for 34 years. The Palo Alto native spent 16 years at the San Francisco Examiner covering Stanford Athletics, the 49ers and golf, earning many national writing awards. In 1997, Soltau became a Bay Area columnist and national golf writer for CBS Sportsline and was also named editor of Tigerwoods.com. In 2002, he joined Golf Digest as a Contributing Editor and has covered 70 major championships.