Native American Top Golfer
Notah Begay III is proud of his culture and his country
Notah Begay III is the first Native American member of the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA). Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Begay lived on a reservation until he was 7 years old. He is Navajo/Pueblo Indian.
"Being the first full-blooded Native American golfer is great," he told Scholastic Kids Press Corps in an interview recently. "You're kind of the pioneer. It's an honor. I represent native peoples around the world."
Begay began golfing when he was about 5 years old. His father introduced him to the game. Both parents supported his interest in golf and encouraged him to do his best.
"My parents were probably the biggest influence in me playing golf," he said. "They always taught me to believe in myself."
Aside from golf, his parents also encouraged him to try other sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, competitive racquetball, and skiing.
In the end he stuck with golf, but he agreed with his parents that it is important for kids to diversify, rather than try to specialize in one sport at a young age.
"I think that's the best way to give kids some exposure to different activities, different strategies," he said. "It challenges them in a variety of ways, which I think are conducive to learning."
|Professional golfer Notah Begay with Kid Reporter Ethan White. Begay is Navajo. Ethan is Iroquois. (Photo courtesy Ethan White)|
As a child he dreamed of playing in different professional leagues, like the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB) or the PGA. Many factors helped him achieve his dream of joining the PGA. Aside from his supportive parents, Begay also had "a lot of great opportunities given to me through friends, coaches, and school," he said.
Begay attended Stanford University, where he played on the golf team with fellow PGA stars Tiger Woods and Casey Martin. At Stanford, he earned a degree in economics, which he holds in high regard.
"Being at Stanford was an honor," he said. "I think my Stanford degree in economics is one of the most valuable things I have in my life."
Begay's success in the PGA allowed him to create a foundation which aims to promote health, wellness, and leadership in Native American youth. He started the NB3 Foundation in 2005 after traveling to native communities and observing that so many of the kids were inactive on a day-to-day basis. He researched the diabetes rate among Native Americans, which is high. He decided that was something he could help change.
NB3 tries to offset type II diabetes and childhood obesity by providing children with opportunities to be active with sports. The foundation introduced soccer to the San Felipe Pueblo community, and currently has 170 kids playing on 20 teams.
NB3 wants to expand the program to other reservations and more kids. The goal is to "increase self esteem in our young children and to introduce the notion that they can go to college," Begay said.
NB3 allows Begay to give back to his culture.
"[My culture] has taught me to have an inner belief in myself," he said. "When you know where you've come from and you're confident in your abilities, you're more able to perform at the highest level."
Observing American Indian Heritage Month is important to Begay.
"It's a time to reflect on the beautiful culture and the tremendous history of American Indian people," he said. "They persevered through some pretty tough times."
He pointed out that at one time more than 12 million Native Americans lived in North America. Now there are less than 4 million.
"We still have a very rich and a proud history," he said. "I think Native American Heritage Month gives Native American people, as well as non-Natives, a chance to reflect on that culture and history."
He had some advice for this reporter, who is member of the Tuscarora Nation and an Iroquois.
"Be very proud of your heritage," he said. "Be proud as a Native American, and be proud as an American, to have such a great group of people representing this country."
For more information on Notah Begay's foundation, check out the NB3 Foundation website.
American Indian Heritage Month
For more Kid Reporter coverage of the annual celebration of America's native heritage, check out the American Indian Heritage Month Special Report.
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Ethan White is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.