Switch-putter Notah Begay went lower than low on the Nike tour
This is an article from the May 25, 1998 issue
Like so many masterpieces, this one was born in solitude--the pro
golf equivalent of solitude, anyway. Fewer than a dozen people
followed Notah Begay III as he shot 59 in the second round of
last week's Nike Dominion Open in Glen Allen, Va. The lucky few
had unobstructed views of what was only the third 59 on a major
U.S. tour, a feat performed by the Nike tour's only full-blooded
"It was a very calm day," said a calm Begay. "I was in control,
which is unusual in this game."
Unlike his Stanford teammates Tiger Woods and Casey Martin, the
25-year-old Begay, who says his name means "almost there," had
not gotten his career off the ground. He had earned $831 this
season and only $3,801 in three years as a Nike pro. "I'm
basically still looking for my game," said a dazed Begay after
matching Al Geiberger's famed 59 in the 1977 Memphis Classic and
Chip Beck's 59 at the '91 Las Vegas Invitational. Yet on one hot
Virginia afternoon, without a cloud or a bogey in sight, he
somehow found a near-perfect game. Starting his fateful Friday
five shots off the lead, Begay began at 1:46 p.m. on the 10th
tee at The Dominion Club, a 7,020-yard Curtis Strange design
that ranked eighth toughest of the 28 Nike tour courses last
year. "It's no pitch-and-putt," Martin says. Begay went out in
32, making birdie putts of eight, 12, 25 and 35 feet. Among his
distinctions is that he is most likely the only switch-putter on
any tour. He hits right-to-left putts righthanded but turns
around to hit left-to-right putts from the left side. "There are
demons to fight on the course," says Begay, who's also known for
tinkering endlessly with his swing.
"He might have tried too many things, almost randomly, trying to
get better," says Martin. "Notah's not afraid to try anything."
There were few demons and little room for improvement for Begay
on Friday. He holed a 112-yard wedge shot for a deuce at the
par-4 1st hole, his 10th hole of the day, then birdied No. 2.
Now seven under, he paced the tee box at the 196-yard 3rd hole.
"It's 208 to the hole," said caddie Todd Byers. Begay nodded. "I
had my adrenaline going, so I took a five-iron," he would
recall, "and hit it in the hole." Ace. He was 9 under par.
"That's when I felt an understanding, an enlightenment. I knew
no one would care if I shot 60 or 61. But a 59 is forever."
In college the half-Navajo, half-Pueblo Albuquerque native
painted his cheekbones with clay before matches. "It was a way
to acknowledge the task at hand and the higher power that allows
me to compete," says Begay, who gave up the ritual for fear of
promoting racial stereotypes but still performs it "internally,
keeping it to myself."
On the last hole, a 182-yard par-3 with water sparkling left of
the green, he flushed a six-iron to eight feet. "Have a go at
it," he thought, staring at the putt, and in that moment it
didn't matter that he might never recapture the near perfection
of this day. It didn't matter that he would falter on the
weekend, shooting 74-74 to tie for sixth place, or even that his
career-best paycheck of $8,437.50 would lift him from 174th to
82nd on the money list. All that mattered was the 96 inches
between him and the hole. Setting up righthanded, he rolled the
ball into the cup. "With this, I guarantee myself a piece of
immortality," he said. --David Noonan
THE LINE ON...
Puckish Jerry Kelly traded his skates for golf spikes
In the summer before his senior year in high school, when Jerry
Kelly broke his left arm in eight places while playing hockey,
he uttered one word: "OhgodI'llneverplaygolfagain!" You might
think he had learned his lesson, but when his arm healed, the
Wisconsin native went back to the rink. He made Hartford his
college choice because athletic officials there assured him he
could play both hockey and golf. "Then I got there," he says,
"and asked when hockey practice started. They said, 'We dropped
the program.'" After earning degrees in finance and insurance,
Kelly turned to pro golf. He won twice on the Nike tour in 1995
and was named the Nike player of the year. On the big Tour in
'96 he shot a final-round 64 to force a playoff with Loren
Roberts at the Greater Milwaukee Open. The local boy lost, but
second was worth $129,600, Kelly's best paycheck. He finished
59th on the money list that year, then dipped to 103rd a year
ago. But in '98 Kelly, 31, has already made $265,452, good for
51st place on the Tour. "Hockey was my first love, but I guess
things turned out O.K.," he says. "You don't break as many bones
THE SHAG BAG
Like a Hole in the Head: While practicing at Iowa City's
Finkbine Golf Course, supermarket manager Christian Owen (below)
paid special attention to the 8th hole, where a hole in one
during a tournament later that day would be worth a 1998 Toyota
RAV4, and the 13th, where acemakers could win $1,000. Owen aced
both holes during his practice round--a 363-million-to-one
prospect according to an Iowa math professor--only to go aceless
in the tournament.
Ford Motors: Golf's rulemakers lost another cart fight last week
when Ford Olinger, an Indiana pro with a bone ailment that makes
walking difficult, won a temporary injunction allowing him to
ride during a U.S. Open qualifier, where he shot 83.
Wonder Woman: Lisa Hackney, the 1997 LPGA rookie of the year,
hit the range at last week's LPGA Championship affixed to the
Wonderstick, a gizmo that she believes can improve a golfer's
address, timing and swing plane. "People may think I look silly,
but I don't care," says Hackney, who won $104,666 for her
second-place finish. "The Wonderstick works."
Wrongly Clubbed: Chuck Hoersch, Kris Tschetter's caddie, was
mugged last Friday night in Wilmington, Del., and hospitalized
with a fractured arm, separated shoulder and several broken
teeth. Yet when Tschetter and her husband, Kirk Lucas, sped to
his side, the caddie's main worry was how Lucas would do as his
replacement. "Here's Chuck with blood all over him, and he's
pulling out his yardage book and telling Kirk about pin
placements," says Tschetter.
Proactive: Brad Elder, the Texas senior who was the '97 NCAA
player of the year, makes his pro debut at this week's
His Prices Are Insaa-ane! When Ely Callaway announced last week
that his firm would slash prices on metal woods, tour pros took
notice. Many Callaway endorsers are paid in stock and stock
options. "I'm not even with them anymore, and I care," says one
player, "because I've still got the stock."
No Quit in Merten: Lauri Merten, the 1993 U.S. Open champion,
has yet to play in an LPGA event this season but says she's
contemplating teeing it up in the July 2-5 U.S. Open and may
enter the ShopRite Classic in Atlantic City as a tune-up.
Oops-terhuis: Moments after fans sang "Happy Birthday" to Peter
Oosterhuis at the Saint Luke's Classic pro-am, the Senior rookie
stepped to the 1st tee and topped his drive all of 70 yards.
Oosterhuis would finish 24 shots behind winner Larry Ziegler.
Thanks, but No Thanks: Future baseball Hall of Famer George
Brett caddied for his chum Ziegler, who won despite three
closing bogeys that had his looper feeling less than super.
"Sure, I was nervous," said Brett. "You should see my drawers."
There was a rare Monty sighting at last week's Benson & Hedges
International Open in Thame, England. The winner of the last
five Orders of Merit graced the European tour for only the
second time this year, and though Colin Montgomerie played
gracefully, tying for fifth behind winner Darren Clarke, his
season's earnings of 43,236.67 [British pounds] leave him 41st
on the tour's money list. "It isn't a priority," he says of the
No, he would rather obsess about the U.S. Open, his favorite
event and his best chance to leave Phil Mickelson as the
undisputed Best Player Never to Yada Yada. "If I finish second
at the Open, I'll be disappointed," he said on Sunday after
losing a 40-quid bet--and the tournament--to his pal Clarke.
"There will always be a blip in my career if I don't win a
major. Everyone will say, 'Oh, yes, he's very good, but....' I
want to erase that but." Having slimmed down last winter,
Montgomerie has a lean, hungry mien as he looks toward San
Francisco. "I go into the U.S. Open like Tiger Woods goes into
the Masters," he says. "On the 1st tee I feel like I'm one up."
Though he has never seen the Olympic Club, the renowned straight
shooter knows its tight fairways and high rough will suit him
better than wide-open Augusta National, where he tied for
eighth. "The two courses are chalk and cheese," he says, adding
mirthfully, "I love the way you get penalized for a bad shot at
At the B&H the raconteur from Troon chatted up galleries and
reporters alike. "I'm busier at home than at a tournament," he
said, referring to his booming course-design firm as well as
another labor of love: three-week-old Cameron Montgomerie, whose
diapers Monty dutifully changes, perhaps with the same pained
look he gives straying putts.
"Everybody wants one, but there are only four a year," he says
of majors, not nappies. "That's the problem, you know. There
aren't enough to go around." --Alan Shipnuck
Olympic-Sized Pool of Volunteers
More than 3,500 unpaid workers will spend 70,000 person-hours to
help stage the 98th U.S. Open on June 18-21 at San Francisco's
Olympic Club. Volunteers serve on 52 committees devoted to
everything from hospitality, which may mean getting restaurant
reservations or Giants tickets for Tour pros, to golf course
operations, which includes keeping tee-box refreshment
containers stocked with candy bars for John Daly. This week
volunteers for the '98 Open--some from as far away as England
and Japan--are attending training sessions. The most envied of
them are the walking scorers, who follow the action from inside
the ropes. "Volunteering gives thousands of people who love the
game a chance to take part" says tournament coordinator Jon
Barker. But working free is no free ride. Those lucky enough to
be chosen must cough up $110 for their uniforms.
HOW SWEET IT WAS
Clayton (Candy Man) Heafner was known for his lumpy physique and
the fattening job he had held in a Linville, N.C., candy
factory. He was also celebrated for his plainspoken ways. Sizing
up one amateur's game, he said, "The pros are built like truck
drivers but have the touch of hairdressers. You are built like a
hairdresser and have the touch of a truck driver." At the 1940
San Francisco Open, Heafner was the subject of a memorable
ruling when he found his lost ball in a spectator's pocket. The
fan said he had retrieved the ball from a tree. Tournament
officials, flummoxed, ruled the incident "an act of God" and
assessed no penalty. Heafner went on to win five Tour titles and
finish second in two U.S. Opens. His sweetest victory came 50
years ago this month at the 1948 Colonial, when he melted Skip
Alexander and the Wee Ice Mon, Ben Hogan, by six shots.
What do these players have in common?
They're the last three amateurs to win a Tour event. Mickelson
did it in 1991, Verplank in '85 and Sanders in '56.