Tiger Woods and Notah Begay III Talk Indian Country, Secrets of Their Success and Life After Golf
This summer, Notah Begay III's NB3 Foundation Challenge returned once again to Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, New York. The fifth annual event brought golf superstars Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Cristie Kerr and Yani Tseng. They joined Begay to support the efforts of his NB3 Foundation to improve the health and wellness of American Indian youth across the country. All proceeds from the tournament go directly to the foundation, which has engaged more than 10,000 Native youth in their soccer and golf programs, as well as many other initiatives.
Along with the aforementioned golfers, the 12-player field included PGA Tour pros Gary Woodland, K.J. Choi, Y.E.Yang, Charlie Wi and Danny Lee, and LPGA Tour golfers Lexi Thompson and Se Ri Pak. This year marked the first time in the event’s five-year history that a East meets West format was used; it paired the fiercely competitive field in a mixed team, best ball tournament. U.S. and Asian players squared off against each other, with a $450,000 winners’ purse at stake.
Before the tournament, long-time friends Notah Begay and Tiger Woods agreed to answer a few questions.
ICTMN: Let’s start with the reason you both came to Turning Stone: the NB3 Foundation.
NOTAH BEGAY III: The NB3 Foundation was started because we wanted to create a foundation that could serve as a catalyst for social change in the health and lives of Native American children and communities. Since we formed the NB3 Foundation in 2003, we have served more than 10,000 Native American children in 11 states. Our mission has not changed. We continue to be committed to the development of sustainable, evidence-based sports and wellness programs to reduce the incidences of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and ensure healthy and successful futures for tomorrow’s leaders.
ICTMN: Let’s also talk about Tiger’s foundation. What are your goals in working with youth?
TIGER WOODS: I’m very proud of what Notah has done, and also what we’ve accomplished at with my foundation. Our goal is to get under-served kids into college. We start in 5th grade and support our scholars through college graduation. Our goal is educate young adults who are driven to help others. Our Learning Center in California provides hands-on classes in science, technology, engineering and math coupled with college prep workshops. The Earl Woods Scholarship Program, named after my dad [who died in 2006], provides admissions counseling, college scholarships, dedicated mentors, specialized internships and vital workshops. As a result of these programs, our kids are succeeding at prestigious universities such as Georgetown, USC, UC Berkeley, UCLA and Harvard.
What continues to amaze me is the success these young people achieve despite difficult situations at home. Most are first-time college students in their families. Their drive, hard work and dedication is awe-inspiring.
ICTMN: Sports is a key part of both of your foundations. That’s probably an obvious component, since you both have had so much success in golf. What can sports teach kids?
WOODS: At the Tiger Woods Foundation, we concentrate primarily on getting kids college access, but golf is also an integral part. Among the things kids learn from sports is fortitude, team work and playing within a set of rules. Like my pop always said, you get out what you put it, and sports exemplifies that. It also provides a great opportunity to go outside and get exercise. Sports teaches so many lessons in life about success and victory, but also about being humble in defeat. I tell everyone that I lose a lot more than I win in golf, but that just makes me want to work harder.
ICTMN: NB3 is big on youth golf, but also soccer. Why did you pick soccer?
BEGAY: Soccer is a global sport, and it has an incredible potential to become a cost-effective and major force for promoting physical activity and preventing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Soccer is also an important tool to foster self-esteem and leadership development among Native American youth. Soccer can also promote parent involvement and community development. These are critical strategies to help fight the health epidemics in Indian Country. Through the golf program run by the NB3 Foundation, we introduce Native American children to all aspects of the game. Golf provides character development and confidence while promoting healthy lifestyles for the Native American youth. In addition, it introduces them to the golf industry and the many job opportunities. From retail to food service to course design, there are so many career paths in the game and we work to expose the kids to the many career-paths that could interest them.
ICTMN: Growing up, did either of you ever worry about body image, or how you looked?
WOODS: I think at a certain age, all of us worry about how we look and what people think of us. I was very skinny and had thick glasses growing up. I started competing in golf at a young age, and everyone seemed bigger and stronger than me.
ICTMN: So much of golf is played in the head—how were you able to become such a young master at psyching out older, more experienced players?
WOODS: I don’t know that I psyche anyone out—you’d have to ask them—but the mental aspect of golf is certainly important. When I play a practice round, I think my way around a course, devising a game plan for the tournament. What’s cool is that you can formulate this great plan, but then weather changes everything. You have to be able to adapt, which I really like.
ICTMN: What was the sport you liked least as a kid?
WOODS: One of the great things about my parents was that they wanted me to try all sports. I played golf with my dad and also competed in track and baseball. Some people speculate that I was encouraged to play golf, but actually it was my decision. My folks were there to support me.
ICTMN: How old were you when you realized golf could be your ticket to something bigger?
BEGAY: I was probably 12 years old when I realized golf could provide me with an opportunity to attend—and pay for—a college. The education I got at Stanford is invaluable, and a golf scholarship made that possible.
WOODS: I was lucky in that I had some success playing golf at an early age, but I never really felt different from the other kids. I knew that I had to work hard every day, both mentally and physically. I knew that would separate me from other players.
ICTMN: You two were roommates at Stanford. Notah, you were there first, so let’s ask you: What was it like having Tiger as a roommate?
BEGAY: It was great. It was like having my little brother hanging around. We’ve been best friends for 20 years now.
ICTMN: Tiger, if you hadn’t been a golfer, what sport would you liked to have played professionally?
WOODS: I probably wouldn’t have been an athlete, but instead I would have tried to become a Navy Seal. My pop was a [U.S. Army] Special Operator and I was privileged to meet many men and women who proudly served our country. I’ve always had great admiration for those that serve in the military.
ICTMN: Tiger left Stanford early to start your professional golf career, but Notah stayed all four years and got a degree—in economics, no less! Notah, if you hadn’t become a professional golfer, what do you think you would have done for a career?
BEGAY: I would have taken my degree and done exactly what I’ve been fortunate to do off the course. Driven by business interests that I’m passionate about, I created NB3 Consulting. Our firm is focused on developing economic partnerships for Indian people and serving the Native American community interested in cultivating golf properties.
ICTMN: Enough about work—let’s talk about Tiger’s EA video game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13. Has anyone every beaten you on your own video game?
WOODS: People beat me all the time. I’m definitely not a scratch player compared to some gamers. I do think the game is great. Over the years I’ve worked very closely with EA to incorporate many of the ideas I’ve had. Some things I wanted to do a long time ago, and technology has finally caught up. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.
ICTMN: Putting aside video games for a second, what’s your favorite golf course in the real world?
BEGAY: My favorite has to be Atunyote Golf Club at Turning Stone. The design and the setting really stand out, and the course is always in impeccable shape. One course that I haven’t had a chance to play but would like to is Pine Valley in New Jersey.
WOODS: My favorite course is probably St. Andrews—it’s the home of golf. You have to think all the time, and conditions like rain and wind can change everything in an instant.
ICTMN: There are a lot of pro-ams on the PGA tour. Who’s the best celebrity golfer?
WOODS: It is amazing how many good players there are from other sports and entertainment. One of the best is my friend, former Braves pitcher John Smoltz. He excelled in baseball and now golf. That’s pretty cool.
ICTMN: You two have had to play with a lot of bad golfers in pro-ams. What’s your single best piece of advice for a bogey golfer?
BEGAY: Spend an extra 15 minutes after every practice session working on your putting.
WOODS: Relax and have fun. Don’t stress over every shot and go out and have a good time.
ICTMN: Final question for both of you: what’s your dream foursome, living or dead?
BEGAY: My dream foursome would have to be my best friend, my brother and Tiger.
WOODS: Mine would just be a twosome—me and my dad.