Notah Begay gets back to the grind of trying to win on the PGA Tour this week, with a seven-day stay in jail scheduled next month.
Begay pleaded guilty Tuesday to aggravated drunken driving, his second drunken driving offense in the last five years. He was sentenced by Metropolitan Court Judge Cecelia Niemczyk to 364 days in jail with all but seven days suspended.
Begay, 27, also must pay a $1,000 fine and consume no alcohol for a year. He will be on probation one year and must perform 48 hours' community service.
Begay, the only American Indian on the PGA Tour, was arrested shortly before midnight Jan. 19 after his vehicle struck a car in the parking lot of an Albuquerque bar.
"I made a big mistake and I want to be held responsible," Begay told the judge after pleading guilty and admitting his blood-alcohol level was at least 0.16, twice the legal limit for intoxication in New Mexico.
A day after his arrest here, Begay said it was his second DWI incident. He was convicted of driving while intoxicated in Scottsdale, Ariz., in November 1995. Having a previous offense increased his jail term for the latest incident to a minimum of seven days.
New Mexico authorities were unaware of the Arizona case, and Begay's admission drew praise from the judge and prosecutors Tuesday.
"You are taking responsibility for more than you were originally charged with," Niemczyk told Begay. "I think that will send a great message."
"You don't have criminal defendants that volunteer information that they have committed an offense in other jurisdictions that will expose them to more (jail) time here in New Mexico," Pete Dinelli, an assistant district attorney, said. "That speaks volumes for his character."
"We believe even though this is his second offense, it will be his last," said Antonio Maestas, another assistant district attorney. "No one will condone his driving while intoxicated, but 'fessing up this early in the proceeding, I think he'll regain his status as Albuquerque's favorite native son."
Begay left following his court hearing to compete in this week's Phoenix Open.
He will begin serving his sentence Feb. 28. His lawyer, Paul Bardacke, said Begay probably will play in the Match Play Championship in San Diego on Feb. 23-27.
The judge also allowed Begay to be in a work release program while in jail. Dinelli said Begay can work on his game or do conditioning work for up to eight hours a day, with the other 16 hours will be spent in jail.
"This is not unusual," Dinelli said. "To maintain his athletic skills and prepare for the tournaments he needs to practice."
Begay, who won two tournaments and more than $1 million during his rookie season in 1999, has said he plans to seek professional help to determine ihe has a drinking problem.
Bardacke said Begay went through a difficult week and was anxious to rejoin the tour.
"He was emotional," he said after Tuesday's hearing. "His parents were there and he wanted to do the right thing. I think he's glad he's got it behind him. Serving the sentence will be the culmination, but right now he wants to go and play golf."
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