BETHESDA, MD. - I was surprised yesterday afternoon when I spotted Notah Begay III practicing on the range at Congressional Country Club. I hadn't seen the four-time Tour winner in a couple of years because I don't spend much time on the European Tour, on the mini-tours, or in hospital operating rooms.
I was surprised again this morning when Begay walked into the press center after shooting a first-round 67 in the AT&T National.
"Well, it was one hell of a surprise for me, to be perfectly honest," Begay said in the interview room. "When I ruptured my disk last May, I seriously thought I wasn't going to be able to play any more."
At our urging, Begay went on to describe an "eight-millimeter herniation of the L4-L5 disk" and a bunch of other medical stuff that made me feel faint. "As long as I do my exercises and don't get too fat," he summed up,"I'll be all right."
But here's what really surprised me: Begay is 35.
I would have thought 30, tops. But that's how it goes for Tour players who lose their cards due to injury or a slump. They drift off our screens, and before you know it they're the focus of one of those "Whatever Happened To"articles in the newspaper.
It would be a shame if that happened to Begay, who is playing the AT&T on a sponsor's exemption. At the turn of the century, he was one of the Tour's best young prospects. He also stood out as the best Native American golfer ever. Throw in the fact that he was one of Tiger Woods's Stanford teammates, and you have a pretty good story. (To read that story - my 2000 version, anyway - head on down to the SI Vault.)
It remains to be seen if Begay's duct-taped body will hold up long enough for him to regain his Tour card, but he's determined to try. "Playing injured out here is, I think, better than not playing at all," he said. "So many people dream about being on this tour and playing at this level. For me to turn my back on that, it would be a shame, just out of respect for the game and my talent."
Welcome back, Notah.
(Photo: Stan Badz/PGA TOUR/Getty Images)