Unlike the tens of thousands who claimed to be in attendance, Notah Begay actually participated in one of the most legendary golf events in Atlanta over the last 50 years.
In occurred in 1995, when Stanford University played a match against Georgia Tech at Druid Hills Golf Club. Begay was part of the supporting cast that afternoon for the Stanford golf team. The featured pairing was Stanford freshman Tiger Woods, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, against Georgia Tech’s Stewart Cink, the No. 2 player.
Cink, who still lives in Atlanta, defeated Woods that day and helped Georgia Tech win the match 4-1.
The only Stanford winner that day? Notah Begay.
The lore of that day has grown dramatically over the years. But Begay said there were probably a couple thousand people on the grounds at Druid Hills that morning.
Begay went on to win four times on the PGA Tour before health issues finally pushed him to the sidelines. Today he’s one of the most astute commentators, both on the course and in the studio, for Golf Channel. He will be part of the broadcast team for the East Lake, Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club.
The event features the four semifinalists from the 2016 NCAA men’s and women’s championships. The men’s teams will feature reigning champion Oregon, Texas, Illinoi and Vanderbilt. The women’s team include 2016 winner Washington, Stanford, UCLA and Duke.
The format this year calls for the teams to compete in a stroke-play event, which will determine the seedings for the two days of match play. The event will be covered live on Golf Channel.
Golf Channel has been instrumental in helping push the popularity of the college game. Twenty years ago very few fans knew much about players like Tiger Woods or Stewart Cink. Now they can watch them represent their college on day and win tournaments as a professional the next.
“It’s a good product. College golf is very entertaining,” Begay said. “They love cheering for their school, their program. What the East Lake Cup does is gives these teams a chance to get more match play experience, but gives a chance to grow the game and highlight programs that produce some kids who do some pretty good things on and off the golf course.”
And the college game has enabled Begay to bring a fresh outlook to the telecasts.
“College golf has let me stay in touch with the young guys,” Begay said. “I watch (Stanford’s) Patrick Rodgers when he won in 2014 and a handful of other players have come up and are now on the PGA Tour.”
But Begay will always be known for his ties with Woods.
The two have been close friends since their junior golf days when they were two minority kids competing in a predominantly Caucasian sport. They remain close today and Begay believes his friend will win again – and win another major.
He said Woods, who withdrew from the PGA Tour season opener in Napa three weeks ago, needs to compete before the end of the calendar year. Otherwise, if he sticks to his traditional schedule, Woods would only four or five events under his belt.
“Even then, it’s a tight timeline to get in game mode,” Begay said. “Get over that initial hurdle, get back out there and back in a tournament mindset and start working again.
He would like to see how the new class of great young golfers would handle the heat like only Tiger can bring. They’re just not familiar, since Woods hasn’t won a major championship since 2008.
“I think it would nice to see the young guys have to deal with that,” Begay said. “Deal with him playing at a high level again. It’s different. The crowds that come out, the energy that’s created, the vibe … They’ve never had to deal with that.”