VERONA, N.Y. – All it took was a phone call from Notah Begay III to convince Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa to take a few swings for charity.
The two former LPGA stars, who have combined for 99 career wins, will take part in the third annual Notah Begay Challenge, a fundraiser aimed at helping fight obesity and diabetes among Native American youth.
“They’re very big advocates in their own right for their own causes. For them to get behind this says a lot about what we’re trying to do,” said Begay, the only full-blooded Native American on the PGA Tour. “It means something to people. The only requirement that Annika had was that she had to make sure her ball wasn’t going to count the whole time. She’s a little worried. You never lose that competitive desire. She wanted to make sure she had a safety net.”
Also playing in the mixed team skins match on Aug. 31 are LPGA players Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Anna Rawson and PGA Tour regulars Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh, and Rickie Fowler, who is part Navajo.
“To get players of this caliber, assemble this kind of field, pull players out of retirement and get them interested and behind what we’re doing is very inspiring to me,” Begay said Wednesday during a teleconference. “It makes me want to continue to do even more for Native American youth.”
Ochoa abruptly retired in May in order to raise a family and run her charity foundation. She’s a perfect fit for this event.
“There’s a mutual interest and there’s a lot of crossover,” Begay said. “She works with a lot of the poor Mexican communities, and to a certain degree they’re partly indigenous. A lot of the indigenous traditions in Mexico are similar to some of the southwestern Native American tribes. I think that she does realize that there are some similarities. If we’re able to support her efforts down the road, we’re certainly going to do that.”
The NB3 Challenge, staged at Turning Stone Resort and Casino’s Atunyote (ah-DUNE’-yote) Golf Club, is a collaboration between the resort’s owner, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, and the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians of California.
The event was a pure skins game the first two years and featured only PGA Tour players. Last summer, Begay pulled off a coup when his former college roommate at Stanford accepted Begay’s invitation to play, and Tiger Woods didn’t disappoint. He won three straight holes at the close to edge Villegas for top money.
The inaugural NB3 Challenge in 2008 was the foundation’s first national event and raised around $200,000. Last year, with Woods wowing the crowd, the total surpassed $1 million and Begay said he expects a similar return this time.
This year the Challenge has been switched to a mixed-team, best-ball format with a total purse of $400,000. The winning twosome will split the top prize of $100,000. Begay said he decided on the change because of Woods, who is trying to put his personal life back together.
“One of the biggest reasons (for the change) is I did not extend an invite to Tiger this year,” Begay said. “I felt like he had some more pressing matters that were a priority in his life, give him a year to sort of work on whatever he felt was important to work on. In light of that, you take away the biggest draw in golf and you certainly have to bring in equally big names. So I thought, the more the merrier.”
Begay said ticket sales would be limited to between 5,000 and 10,000 (only 3,000 were sold last year because of the presence of Woods), and many will be given away to youth groups and charities that promote youth-based initiatives.
“The focal point will always be to generate a fundraising base for our organization,” Begay said. “But I feel like this event is just going to continue to grow and gain more and more support across the country. There’s so much need out there.
“It’s a big struggle, but it’s a lifelong commitment for me. I’m 37 years old and I’ll be doing this until the day I die. I just want to serve my people any way I can.”