March 19, 2008 / 4:38 PM / 12 years ago

Begay returns to Europe after long-term back injury

SANTO DA SERRA, Madeira (Reuters) - American Notah Begay returns to Europe in the hope of resurrecting his career this week after nearly a year out of action with back problems.

File photo shows golfer Notah Begay III at the Wachovia Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina May 8, 2004. Begay returns to Europe in the hope of resurrecting his career this week after nearly a year out of action with back problems. REUTERS/Ellen Ozier

The four-times U.S. PGA Tour winner has passed up a chance of playing the Nationwide Tour, America’s second-rated tour, to fly to Europe to take up a one-year medical exemption.

“It’s been a long road,” Begay told Reuters as he prepared for the Madeira Islands Open, which starts on Thursday.

“I ruptured my disc early last year and I’ve spent almost the last 12 months trying to get it healthy enough to come back over and deal with the golf and all the travel. Hopefully it will hold up this time.”

Last year, after switching tours to try to revive his career, Begay briefly led in Madeira and challenged strongly on the mountainside course until a long-term back injury returned to spoil his weekend.

By the Irish Open in May, sciatic nerve problems were so bad that he went home.

Begay, whose U.S. wins date back to 1999 and 2000, has been encouraged by a reasonably successful PGA Tour qualifying school, where, though he did not qualify for the full tour, he played well enough to earn a Nationwide Tour card.

When he knew he had been granted an extension for 2008 for Europe, though, he was quick to opt to go overseas.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” he said. “The caliber of play here is so strong I really feel this is a better place for me to work on my game.”

To help his cause, the New Mexico native has moved east to Dallas to make his trips to Europe shorter and has taken on new training staff.

He takes inspiration from old friend Tiger Woods, the world number one, with whom he shared a room at Stanford University.

“We stayed at his house during Q school in Florida. He was a great host, cooked for me every night. We encourage each other just like when we were back in college,” said Begay.

“He understands how hard I’ve been working. He’s one of my biggest supporters. He’s given me belief I can get back on track.”

Editing by Clare Fallon

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