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March 13, 2003

Notah Begay III


JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Notah Begay III into the interview room. Thanks for coming by and spending a few minutes with us. A 9-under par 63; congratulations on a great start.

NOTAH BEGAY III: Thank you. It's good to get off to a good start, especially in a week that's going to require so many birdies and real aggressive play.

So good to get out of the gates like that. Really helps your outlook on the rest of the week.

JOHN BUSH: You started on the back nine with four pars but then you came right back with four straight birdies. Can you take us through your round with your birdies?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Yeah, when you start out with four pars and Chris Riley starts out with three birdies, you're kind of just going, wow, this is going to be one of those weeks where you are not making birdies guys are just going to be running over your back with their spikes.

I made a long putt on the par 3 for birdie and just sandwiched that between the par 5s with two birdies there and hit a good iron shot on the par 316th and got off to a real good start.

Made a great save on 9. Just really got hot there with mostly the irons. I hit some real close iron shots on the front, the first five holes, birdied the first five holes. I think the best putt I made on that stretch of birdies was on No. 5, the par 5 was about an 18-footer for birdie.

JOHN BUSH: Nine birdies in ten holes, have you had a stretch like that any time recently?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Not recently. The closest I have ever come to that was when I shot 59 in Richmond Virginia on the -- whatever they call it now, the Nationwide Tour.

I was comfortable and never nervous at any point. I know that I didn't can't win the golf tournament today. Was just out there trying to make more birdies, but at the same time not to get too nervous or anything like that because it's just too early in the week for that.

Q. You would have had to birdie all nine holes on the front to shoot 59, having shot that, were you thinking about that?

NOTAH BEGAY III: I was trying to shoot 58. I've already shot 59. I was trying to birdie all the holes and eagle my 18th. That's just the wind of mentality I've always had.

When I shot 62 in the NCAA Championships in '94, my whole mentality that week or that day was I've already shot 9-under, let's shoot 10. When I shot 59, when I got to 10-under I was like well, I already shot 10-under in my career, let's shoot more. It was significantly more that day.

I think the only number I'm missing is 60. So I was trying to hit that one at least, but I kind of really messed up the last hole there. I just hit a bad drive. I made a great par but I was trying to eagle that hole and trying to shoot 60.

Q. Where was that, the NCAA?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Stonebridge Country Club in McKinney, Texas. That was the year we won the National Championship -- asterisk by that, "without Tiger".

Q. Is this course pretty much defenseless without the wind?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Yes. It's in great condition. You get great lies in the fairways. If you can incorporate the grain into your putts, you get good reads, you can make a lot of birdies.

Q. 30-under; possible this week?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Yeah, I would say somewhere between, if the wind does not kick up, between 25- and 30-under is going to probably be the winning score. That's hard to fathom, I mean, shooting 9 and knowing that you've got 21 more to go.

That's just how things are. Guys just keep -- they are such competitors out here and they are so good that with the equipment as good as it is, and you know balls being better in the wind, the wind is not as much of a factor as it used to be. Guys are able to hit -- I'm sure guys are hitting their 3-woods anywhere -- with the roll in the fairway, between 270 and 290. I almost hit it through 12 fairway with a 3-wood. It's over 300 yards through that fairway. That was with no wind, and so you're just putting fairway woods in great players hands to hit off the tee, and then you're putting short irons in their hands on top of that. It's an equation for low scoring.

Q. Do you like tournaments where you have to go 25- or 30-under to win and shoot 63 just to stay in it?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Oh, you love it when you're playing great. But when the putts are not going in, and you're lipping out or misreading, you're not comfortable on grainy bermuda, well, you hate it. But that's just -- I mean, obviously, it's just for the first year, but guys are going to really have to go out there with an aggressive mentality, I believe.

Q. Before Sony, you came in and you were optimistic, you were feeling good about thing coming back. How do you feel now after five or six tournaments under your belt?

NOTAH BEGAY III: I feel great. It's been six events into the year, this is my seventh and I've made four cuts. Sort of evaluating where I started from and how I felt physically. The last few weeks have really been a battle mentally more than anything because I was such a strong player mentally my first two years.

If you look at my mechanics and my golf swing my first two years on TOUR, they are not as good as they are now, but I was playing much better, and it's because I went out and I scored. But once I got hurt, my body wouldn't do what my mind wanted it to do, and so then I started creating doubt.

And this last year and a half, I've been not only building up that doubt, but just starting this year having to break that down and retrain my mind to be positive again and understanding that I am healthy and that I can hit the golf shots that I know I'm capable of hitting.

Today was just a typical case of that. I was holing shots into the wind, drawing the ball into the tee, cutting the ball into the wind just to shape the doglegs, and that's how I know how to play golf. And it's finally good for me to come out here and assert my presence on this tour like I know -- like where I think I belong.

Q. Can I trouble you to update us or review the health situation you've gone through?

NOTAH BEGAY III: It's basically after the year 2000, I got all the way up to, I think, 30th in the World Rankings and then I incurred an injury that year.

The following year I only played 12 events and should not have played those. I had a disk, sort of like a bulged disk almost and the best way I thought to heal that was just to rest, so I took six months off.

And then starting in 2002 was just climbing back out of the cellar. My World Ranking fell out of the top 200. I had no confidence. My flexibility, strength, everything, wasn't there, and it was trying to play elite level golf with below-par abilities, physically. But there's only one way to get back out here, and that's to get back on that horse and start training yourself to be a good pro again, to be the player that I know that I that I am.

All last year was just a rebuilding process and mechanically, physically, and now this year is more -- my goals are more mentally focused. Everything is to be positive, to encourage myself to stay focused on the goals and the objectives that I know are going to facilitate good scores. Because I know if I get in contention, I'm a tough player. You can look at my statistics. I won't back down. I'm not scared and I thrive.

So once it's there, I really feel confident about my abilities.

Q. How tough was it when your confidence is getting beat up and missing 11 consecutive cuts; how bad did it get?

NOTAH BEGAY III: It's awful. You start getting to an apathetic state of mind, trying to find some sort of external factors to place blame on. It's a depression that all injured athletes go through.

If anyone has read Lance Armstrong's book, he talks about his depression and I've talked with other athletes about it, and you just deal with it because you know in your mind how good you can be and that you've proven. It's not some sort of fictitious vision I've had in my head. I know that I can win out here. I know that I can make the Presidents Cup team. But then when you go out and you shoot 6-, 5-over, day after day, you're just like, "Well, am I ever going to be good again? Am I ever going to be that good again?"

And so the only way that I knew how to work myself out of that was to keep working harder and to push myself harder until I just finally started hitting walls because I was worked as hard as I could physically. I was putting all my time in that I needed on the range and on the course, but the one need that I didn't assess was your mental outlook, your attitude.

As far as I'm concerned, the body is going to follow the mind, and if I can continue to keep a positive frame of mind and stay focused, that way, I think my body and I my skills will do the rest of the work for me.

Q. Can you briefly explain the lefty/righty putting, the philosophy?

NOTAH BEGAY III: There's no real strategy out here to confuse opponents, so I'm trying to incorporate that to throw them off a little bit. (Laughter.)

Essentially, two friends of mine, Brian Stack and Tim Holeman (ph) from Palo Alto, at the time when I was at Stanford there, just kind of came up with the theory one day. They talked about the advantages of why a right-handed putter enjoys a hook putt. It's not just the fact that -- there's so many different elements and I could bore you guys to death with all of them if you'd like, but I'm not going to, simply, it's an easier putt. It sets up -- and that's the majority. There's always going to be exceptions to the case.

There's some guys out here that love left-to-rights, and they are probably left-eye dominant, but it just sets up easier, speed control; but most importantly, your misses still have a chance to go in because the majority of your misses are going to be pushed outside your line. Which is why a right-hander that sits over a hooked putt, if he feels like he's not playing enough break -- I should say he or she nowadays, we are going to have girls out here soon -- that putter can block it outside the line, just by feel.

And depending on your skill level, you kind of just have this, you know, perception of time and space. You kind of just go, that's just not high enough, so you just block it.

So you end up making more putts. But we've been taught from day one that it's bad to pull it, so when you get over a left-to-righter, not only is the ball below your feet and the toe is more off the ground than it is on a right-to-lefter, when you feel like you don't have enough break. There's no way you are going to try and pull that putt. It's just not in our minds to do that. We are taught from the day we pick up a putter, you don't want to sling that thing over the top. Consequently, you end up missing it low.

Speed, and if you notice, and you guys watch a lot of golf, watch left-to-right putts. Just keep a mental note. More often than not, the speed will be off and they will miss low. And I'm not saying that you are going to miss every right-to-left putt high, but you are going to see better speed control on those putts for the most part.

Q. The hat, you don't have an endorsement on the hat?

NOTAH BEGAY III: I'm a free agent. It's free agent season in some sport, I'm looking to sign, be maybe hockey, someone will pick me up. Football, arena football.

Q. How do you deal with that, because you are a winner out here, you're a proven guy until the injury and now you're almost like having to prove yourself again?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Yeah, it's great. I play for me. I love it. I mean, I never played this game for money. I played for the pursuit of excellence and to battle it out with the world's best golfers as often as possible. Whether I have a company on my hat or not doesn't have an effect on how I play.

Q. Who did you have?

NOTAH BEGAY III: I was a Nike guy.

Q. Is there a sponsor that would lend itself best to your personalty?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Well, we're going to be patient with that. My deal just ended this week, and we just parted ways amicably. So it was something they wanted to move in a direction and I wanted to go in another direction, and so we just decided that we need to be separate and that movement.

I just want to always partner myself with good companies, strong companies that not only are successful in the financial and business world but do a lot of community outreach and have a strong philanthropic outlook.

Q. What equipment of you playing this week?

NOTAH BEGAY III: I'm playing Ping irons and Titleist driver and ball.

I've kind of got a mix of things. I've got the best stuff for me in my bag right now.

Q. Have you been playing this or have you switched?

NOTAH BEGAY III: I just switched this week.

Q. How tough is it to go out and play with new equipment and shoot 63?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Pretty easy. I guess you guys should all go buy new irons, huh? But the key is, you have to leave the price tag on them; otherwise, they are no good.

Q. 63 is a great score, when was the last time you played this well that you can remember?

NOTAH BEGAY III: Well, I've been on the brink. I guess atlas Vegas last year I shot 65-65 on the weekend. But it was interesting, there were two different rounds. On Saturday, I shot 28 or 29 on the front nine, so I shot 29-36. I didn't make one birdie on the back.

On Sunday I shot 65 and was 1-under through eight holes. So I think the Saturday's round, I had an opportunity to shoot 12, 13-under pretty easy, but those kind of rounds sometimes you need a little bit of luck. The one time where I could have really turned it into something good, I just let it slip through my hands.

Q. If you were still in Vegas today, would you bet there would be a 59 this week?

NOTAH BEGAY III: If the wind stays around ten miles an hour, yeah. It's supposed to be like this all four days.

I may not be leading in an hour, so -- (Laughter.) That's happened. When I shot 62 at the NCAA Championships, the guy that set the new course record at 63 finished half an hour before I did, so he had the course record for half an hour before I did. So he wasn't feeling too good after that.

End of FastScripts....

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