By The Armchair Golfer
Natalie Gulbis at a recent skills challenge.
Zach Johnson looks on.
(Photos courtesy of RSM McGladrey)
[WGT Note: Our Pinehurst vacation trip winners were there the same week, and some got to meet Ms. Gulbis as well!]
Natalie Gulbis is one of the most recognizable female golfers on the planet. Only 26, Natalie is completing her eighth season on the LPGA Tour. Yes, eight seasons. It’s kind of hard to believe.
Natalie has won one LPGA title and played on three victorious U.S. Solheim Cup teams. She has five top 10 finishes in majors. And, of course, she is a golfer-model, with looks and sex appeal that attract legions of admirers and land her in magazine spreads and on TV programs such as “The Celebrity Apprentice” and her own reality show on the Golf Channel.
What is Natalie like up close? What is it like to talk to her?
I can tell you—at least a little bit—because I stood with her under a canopy on the 10th tee of Pinehurst No. 8 last week.
I was a sponsor’s guest at the finals of the McGladrey Team Championship, a national best-ball amateur tournament. In addition to attending the festivities and VIP activities such as a skills challenge, I had the opportunity to talk to Natalie, Zach Johnson and Chris DiMarco, the three RSM McGladrey tour pros.
I didn’t know exactly when or where I’d have my chat with the three tour players. Although I had prepared some questions and carried a tiny digital voice recorder in my pocket, I knew I better be ready for anything. This would not be sit-downs or in-depth interviews. I was there to take in the experience, including my encounters with Natalie, Zach and Chris.
Natalie was first. I introduced myself and shook her hand. We talked, sometimes whispering, as amateur teams teed off in the three-day competition. She stepped away a couple of times for photographs with the teams, as did Zach, who stood nearby.
Natalie is personable and direct. She is totally at ease and an eager advocate for the women’s game, charities and her sponsors. Although she has fielded thousands of questions, this may be the first time she was asked this opener.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I have to ask you a couple of questions for my daughters. My 9-year-old wants to know your favorite color.
NATALIE GULBIS: My favorite color is purple.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: My 14-year-old daughter wants to know if you have any pets.
NATALIE GULBIS: I don’t have any pets. I had pets growing up, but now since I turned professional it’s too hard to be on the road and have pets. Stuffed animals is about the extent. My family does, though. My family in Sacramento has a dog and a cat.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What’s it been like for you to be associated with this event and the Special Olympics?
NATALIE GULBIS: It’s been great. It’s been an honor to be associated with RSM McGladrey, to be part of a team. We always consider ourselves to be a team. I’ve learned so much from them. And then with their partnership with the Special Olympics, to be able to be involved in Special Olympics in golf and help them raise money and raise awareness has been a pure joy.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: It looked like you were really having a good time at the auction last night.
NATALIE GULBIS: Yeah, last night was fun.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Raised a lot of money.
NATALIE GULBIS: Yeah, 34 grand.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: And your group went for $10,000? (Note: A two-day outing with Natalie for four people was a feature of the Special Olympics golf live auction the night before.)
NATALIE GULBIS: $10,000.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: So, I was looking at your schedule and you’re on your way to Korea after this?
NATALIE GULBIS: Actually, I pulled out of Korea. I would have normally went to Korea tonight and played Japan next week.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I was thinking, “Wow, what a schedule.”
NATALIE GULBIS: Yeah, that was a little bit too much. You get over there and you lose a day.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How’s your back? (Note: Natalie has had back problems for at least two years.)
NATALIE GULBIS: Good. Very good, thank you.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Are you doing some new strength work?
NATALIE GULBIS: Different. I changed my work. I used to do much more overall strength and now I just do core strength.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Your back has been good all year?
NATALIE GULBIS: At times, yes.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Backs are tough in golf, aren’t they?
NATALIE GULBIS: They are.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How’s your game and what are you working on?
NATALIE GULBIS: Right now I am working and spending a lot of time on my short game. I’ve been striking the ball well, I’ve been putting well, but missed a lot of opportunities for up and downs when I’ve missed greens so I’ve been working on my short game a lot.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Tough year in golf for all tours. What’s it been like to see events like the Corning Classic go away?
NATALIE GULBIS: Middle of the year it was really scary. We had 10 events up for renewal and we didn’t know how many of those we were going to re-sign. But we’ve had some pretty good momentum here in the last couple of months and we got the preview of our schedule for 2010 and it looks like we’re only going to lose two tournaments. That was big.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Have you gotten used to playing without Annika out there or does it still feel sort of strange?
NATALIE GULBIS: It definitely does when she’s the past champion of a tournament and she’s not there to defend. You just miss seeing her on leaderboards, seeing her on the putting green. She was one of my best friends on tour. We used to rent a house every year at the British Open. You see her name on past champions at most of our tournaments. To think that she’s not in the field any more is sad.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Have you seen the baby (Annika’s first child born in September)?
NATALIE GULBIS: No, just pictures. I hope to meet her in January. I’ll probably go down to Florida to see her.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What is your best advice for the amateur golfer?
NATALIE GULBIS: Spend as much time on the short game as they can. That’s usually the ultimate goal, to shoot lower scores. You can’t do that without working on your short game.