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He made his name on Rakekniven in Antarctica, Hot Doggies in Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sail Peak on Baffin Island, Kwangde Nup in the Himalayas. In the big-ego sport of mountaineering Alex Lowe was the biggest name of all. His death last week in the Tibetan Himalayas left the climbing world in shock.
Lowe and high-altitude cameraman Dave Bridges died on Oct. 4 when a 500-foot-wide, 100-mph avalanche engulfed them on Shishapangma, the world's 14th-highest peak. Conrad Anker, the climber who discovered the long-lost body of George Mallory on Mount Everest last May (SCORECARD, May 10), was also caught in the slide but survived. The three were trying to become the first to ski from Shishapangma's 26,291-foot summit.
Lowe, who twice summitted Everest, was famed for his strength, speed and courage. When a storm trapped two climbers below the 19,500-foot summit plateau of Mount McKinley's West Rib in 1995, Lowe and three companions rode in a Chinook helicopter to the plateau and fixed 300 feet of line that led down to the stranded climbers. One was unable to walk, so Lowe piggybacked him up the rope to the chopper—an astonishing feat at that altitude. The same year Lowe and Anker helped the McKinley Park Service evacuate a pair of climbers stranded at 19,000 feet. Anker descended with the stronger man. "That left Alex with a dehydrated, hypothermic, frostbitten climber who couldn't walk," says Colin Grissom, then the doctor at McKinley's high-altitude camp. "So he clipped the guy to his harness and dragged him down to 17,000 feet. That's a hell of an achievement—the guy would have died."
Lowe's seeming invulnerability made his death all the more stunning. Says Grissom, "He was the one who could push the limits and live."
Golf's only switch-putting Native American won the Michelob Championship on Sunday. The victory was worth $450,000 to Notah Begay III, a Stanford teammate of Tiger Woods and Casey Martin who's half Navajo, half Pueblo and all guts. "Inexplicable—the emotions," said Begay after he caught Mike Weir and Tom Byrum with birdies on 17 and 18 and won a sudden-death playoff. "On the second playoff hole I felt I was suffocating."
Begay, 27, isn't your typical deadpan tour pro. He used to paint his cheeks with clay before college matches at Stanford, where he was No. 2 man behind Woods and a spot ahead of Martin on a Cardinal team that finished second at the 1995 NCAA championships. (He was also known around campus as the team's best dancer.) After bagging the face-painting ritual for fear of perpetuating a racial stereotype, he knocked around the minor league Canadian and Nike tours, earning just $3,801 in three Nike seasons. Nothing clicked, not even the oddball putting style he devised: He hits righthanded on putts that break right to left but turns around and hits left-to-right putts from the left side. "There are demons to fight on the course," says Begay, who never stops tinkering with his game.
Golf's gods smiled on him at last year's Nike Dominion Open in Glen Allen, Va. During the second round Begay, who entered the tournament with $831 in earnings for the year, aced a 208-yard hole and knocked in a final, crucial eight-foot putt to shoot 59. That made him the third player ever to break 60 on a major U.S. tour. Even after fading to a sixth-place tie that week he earned $8,437.50, and he stayed hot enough to finish 10th on the final Nike money list with $136,289, good enough for an exemption on this year's PGA Tour.
Begay missed seven cuts and had only one top 20 finish in his first 21 events this year. Then he rode a third-round 63 to victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open on Aug. 29. At the Michelob on Sunday, approaching the tee on the par-3 17th, he knew that by playing safe he could finish in the top three, climb into the top 40 on the money list and qualify for next year's Masters. But as he stood on the tee, Begay decided that wasn't enough. "We're here to win. I'm going for the flag," he told his caddie, Don Thom. His birdie got him within a shot of the lead.
An hour later, on the second hole of the playoff with Byrum, Begay chipped out of tangled rough to four feet, set up left-handed and canned the putt, capping a comeback Byrum characterized as "Notah coming out of the blue."