Recently, Devil Ball's Will Leivenberg got the chance to talk with Notah Begay III on golf, life and that red-shirted fellow. Enjoy.
The mission of your Foundation is not only to reduce the rate of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes within the Native American Community, but also to develop leadership skills for youth through sports, health and research programs. In what ways do you believe sports, and especially golf, can be a crucial tool for teaching youth?
I think there's a couple facets to that concept. The first of which is that when sports is introduced correctly to young children they can learn the principles of goal-setting, hard work, dedication, a lot of things that are central to their development into responsible, young adults. The second facet of that is the sport transcends race, transcends political affiliation, and gender. You see sports fans cheer, whether it's the Yankees or Dallas Cowboys, and they're from all different economic backgrounds, different ethnicities, both are types of things that sports offer to our young children without having to modify, or change, the essence of the activities. The only thing we are responsible for is engaging the children appropriately with the respect of sport.
I know you are playing in the desert in a couple weeks down in Palm Springs (Nov. 3), are you excited to be playing on the Canadian Tour in California?
Well, going back to the Foundation, one of my biggest sponsors and one of the biggest supporters of my professional career and what basically helped get the NB3 Foundation started is the San Manuel Band of Serrano of Mission Indians. Their reservation is located in San Bernardino and so the tournament gives me a great opportunity to come down and support that partnership that I've had with them now for quite some time. They are one of the founding partners of the NB3 Challenge, which has raised close to $3 million for the NB3 Foundation. It's great to be back in an area where I've had such strong support and I hope to be able to continue to foster that relationship as we move forward.
I was just wondering, what the heck is the Canadian Tour doing in California?
[Laughing] Well, it's just like the Nationwide Tour in South America and the PGA Tour in Asia; the European Tour set a precedent five or six years ago when they went global. Continental Europe isn't the best place for year-round golf so I thought it was a very wise decision by leadership in the European Tour to take its tour global. They start their season in December in South Africa and move to the Middle East and then head to Southeast and Central Asia and then back into Spain for the springtime. They set the precedent and now every major tour has followed suit, the LPGA Tour included with their last two events in Asia. The Canadian Tour is no different. I think it's fantastic, it's great to have that type of opportunity for players to go to a nice place and play for a nice purse and support the Canadian Tour.
How's your game these days? Strengths? Weaknesses?
I feel great about my game. My game has sort of experienced a resurgence. My health is good and I'm looking forward to getting back on the PGA Tour full-time next year so I can win some tournaments.
You mentioned the global element of the game as a major factor in today's world of golf, but what do you think has been the biggest change to professional golf since you began playing?
Well, purse size is probably the biggest change. Tiger Woods basically took the game global and now all the tours are following that path. If you look at a tour schedule 15-20 years ago to now, it doesn't even reflect in a variety of ways what the tour is now. It'd be fewer events for a third of the money. You certainly wouldn't have the international representation and you wouldn't see the globalization of the tour. It certainly has evolved, and it's just like the world economies. Globalization and technology have forced everybody to look in other areas that weren't available 15-20 years ago to generate profits and revenues and the PGA Tour is no different. I think the one thing that there needs to be concern of is whether or not the PGA Tour is 100 percent behind exploiting some of its best products.
Along the lines of globalization and international element, what type of impact do you foresee this group of young guns having on the world of golf? (Guys like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Jason Day, now Bud Cauley.)
I think with Tiger's downturn in the last couple years and as he's been struggling to sort of find his game and get to his highly competitive level, what that's given golfers, viewers and even members of the PGA Tour is an opportunity to see what golf would look like without Tiger Woods. It's been great and exciting. The major championships with the exception of the U.S. Open were up for grabs. There were four or five players that could have won the other three majors. There are so many new winners and young players — Bill Haas, Webb Simpson — guys that are coming into their own and are coming into the peak periods of their lives as far as their performance is concerned. It's not going to generate the ratings, and I think this is the reality the PGA Tour has to come to and the rest of the golf has to come to is — a guy like Tiger Woods comes along once in a century. They are not going to see the jump in ratings and growth in the game that they've experienced with Tiger being a part of it all. But that doesn't mean the game still can't be interesting and can't be innovative and can't be exciting. These young guys do so many great things and they hit the ball far, they can hit shots. It's still a very, very entertaining product.
Are you and Tiger still close? How do you think his progress is going with the rebuilding of his game and ultimately regaining his confidence?
Tiger and I have remained good friends; we are as close as we've ever been. I love him like my brother and it pains me to see what he's had to endure. I certainly know he's going to come out a better person because of it. I believe 100 percent that his game will return to high levels. Now I don't know what that means, age takes a toll on everybody and with the emotional and mental trauma that he experienced, everyone deals with it differently. He's got to come to terms with all of that and you will soon see a rejuvenated Tiger Woods. I was very, very encouraged by his performance at the Frys. He's going to build off of that and you should see some high quality golf from him at the Australian Open and Presidents Cup.
A lot of golf experts and fans assume that there's one aspect of his game that is the problem, like if only he fixed his driver or that the "real" problem is his putter, but do you think there is one thing he really needs to hone in on to elevate his game?
It's all about reps, which is what he says. More competitive reps. He needs to play more and that only comes with time. You can only play one round a day. It's not going to happen overnight and it takes a little bit of success to build confidence and it's a very tricky, tricky process. He's probably struggling as much as he's ever struggled in his career. Players in similar places in their career have one of two choices — fight or flight. So is he going to stand and fight or is he going to run scared? I think he's going to stand and fight it out. He will be just fine.
What are your thoughts on a player like Dustin Johnson, who has proven how strong of a player he is, but who we've also seen crumble down the stretch in multiple major championships?
A player like Dustin Johnson isn't just a great golfer, he's a great athlete. He might be the best athlete on the PGA Tour. He's the kind of guy that could probably play or pick up just about anything he wanted. The upside and potential of a guy like Johnson is limitless. He has the ability do as well as he'd like to with regard to the mechanical physical components. But the way people engage in stressful situations that are created in major championship circumstances is different. Some players handle it well and some don't. We would be judging his ability to win majors too quickly if he were going to base it on his poor performance on Sunday at the U.S. Open and then the PGA Championship.
What three players impressed you most this year?
The player with the most upside has got to be Rory McIlroy. His coming out and winning a major championship the way he did, I mean it's irrelevant the way the golf course played. Congressional played like a regular tour event, it just wasn't a U.S. Open setup. But regardless, the guy kicked everybody's butt. No one is going to talk about the soft fairways and soft greens in 15 years. You will see his name as the lowest score ever shot. The other two players from a consistency standpoint in big tournaments, you have to look at Jason Day, who fulfilled everyone's expectations placed on him from four or five years ago. The biggest surprise to me is Webb Simpson. I don't think anyone would've ever picked him prior to anything this year to be a contender to win the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour Money List, which is exactly what he's done and is a testament to his will and his talent and I think you will see some great things from him for the next 10 years.
As somebody who has experimented with some unconventional putting methods, have you tried the belly putter? Do you think the craze will catch on?
Oh I think it's going to catch on if it hasn't already. I haven't experimented with it and don't agree with it from a technical, or mechanical standpoint. But that doesn't matter. The fact is you've got to make putts. Your stroke doesn't have to be perfect. I think it's more important to believe in what you are doing than having good mechanics. If people believe the belly putter allows them to stay more stable, I mean it basically saved Fred Couples' career and has saved a lot of peoples'. I mean when you see Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els trying it, I think it's gone past the experimental phase and is now a mainstream, widely accepted method of putting that you will see more and more amateurs take up.
What's your favorite track to compete on?
St. Andrews. No question.
If there is one course that you recommend all golfers go and play at some point in their lives, which would it be and why?
Gosh, that's a good question. I would have to say a course like San Francisco Golf Club. A lot of people don't know about it. It's an old-school design, old-school feel. Beautiful clubhouse, laid-back feeling, caddies, fog, you hit every club in the bag. It's just a great place to play.
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