Ask a PGA Tour pro about the issues of the day and you're likely
to hear a principled stand on both sides: Casey Martin's my
man--but the Tour needs to be able to make its own rules. Augusta
should admit a woman--but the members have the right to freedom of
So it's hardly surprising that on the subject of Operation Iraqi
Freedom, the players have trafficked in platitudes. Tiger Woods
posted a message on his website in support of the troops. Nice.
Arnold Palmer said he never likes it when America goes to war.
Good. And Notah Begay III also weighed in.
"I don't think our leadership truly considered all the
alternatives," Begay says. "I think there's an agenda there that
most of us don't know about and will never know about. I'm still
wondering what happened to the campaign to find Bin Laden. It
seems as if this war, if the objectives are achieved, will cover
up a lot of domestic inadequacies in the administration." Uh-oh.
Begay goes out of his way to say he supports the troops, and he
really does; he comes from a long line of military men. He simply
doesn't support the war, and he says so. For that he expects to
be barbecued in the locker room as a lily-livered liberal, an
appeaser or--sacre bleu!--maybe even worse: Le Notah. He doesn't
April 13, 2003
"The [other players] don't need to agree with me," says Begay,
whose tie for fifth at last month's Honda Classic was only his
third top 10 in more than two years. "They only need to respect
the fact that I have an opinion."
Besides, Begay can take the hit. He's battle-hardened on the
subject, courtesy of his family. Lance Cpl. Greg Begay,
20--Notah's half brother by virtue of his father's second
marriage--is stationed in Kuwait with the 1st Marine Division, 1st
Recon Batallion, D Company. Or at least he was in Kuwait. The
Begays don't know exactly where he is these days. They haven't
heard from him since receiving a letter dated March 11. He
shipped out from Camp Pendleton, in Oceanside, Calif., in
February, during the week of the Buick Invitational.
Their father, Notah Begay Jr., was also a Marine, providing
computer software expertise in Danang during the Vietnam War,
though he never saw combat. The first Notah Begay was also in the
military; he served as a Navajo code-talker in the South Pacific,
mostly on Guam, during World War II.
"That's where he contracted some sort of disease that we never
really got a formal diagnosis on," says Notah III. "He spent some
time in the U.S. naval hospital in Hawaii and was discharged in
'44. He went back to the reservation and spent his remaining
years there, but the disease contributed to his death."
Begay's give-peace-a-chance stance has been echoed in protests
from New York to New Delhi, but his views have ruffled feathers
in his own family circle. His father, squarely behind President
Bush, is "shoot first, ask questions later," Notah III says. His
brother Clint, who caddies for Notah, tries to stay out of
politics, Notah Jr. says. He adds that Clint is most likely
supportive of the decision to fight, as he, too, almost joined
Pressed to name another Tour player who shares his position on
the war, Begay is stumped, but he says he is not so "aggressively
antiwar" as to initiate a debate about the conflict with other
players. Mostly, Begay says of the talk in the locker room, "I'm
a great listener."
Whatever their differences about the war, Notah and his father
watch the coverage on TV and hope for Greg's safe return. Notah
Jr. took an additional step when it became clear, in January,
that Greg was headed for the Middle East. He had a Navajo
medicine man come from Arizona to give his son a blessing.
"Even when Notah goes away to play, and when Clint goes away,
there are some spiritual things done for all the boys," Notah Jr.
says. "That makes things easier for me, knowing Greg is protected
in the Navajo way.
"I'm awful proud," Notah Jr. adds. "In the Navajo tradition we
are born with a warrior's spirit, and this spirit is with us all
the time. We know that's who we are and what we have to do in
critical situations like this."
Notah III hopes to tee it up again with Greg, who is a scratch
player. The two were within 20 miles of each other during the
Buick, but Notah wasn't able to contact him at Camp Pendleton.
Like everyone else, Begay hopes the fighting ends soon. He
doesn't expect to have many conversations about the war with the
other players. He shares his views only when asked. That's not
heroic, but in a place where seldom is heard a dissenting word,
it seems that way.
The players don't have to agree with him, Begay says. "They only
need to respect the fact that I have an opinion."