Like so many masterpieces, this one was born in solitudethe 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."
Begay now has an achievement neither of his more famous Stanford teammates, Woods and Martin, can claim.
(Scott K. Brown)
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.
Issue date: May 25, 1998