An Interview with Natalie Gulbis
I had the pleasure of interviewing LPGA Tour star Natalie Gulbis when she was recently in Pinehurst for the 2009 RSM McGladrey Team Championships. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past decade or so, Natalie played in her first LPGA event as an amateur at the age of 14, and at the time was the youngest player ever to qualify. She turned pro in 2002 at the age of 18 after playing one season for the women's golf team at the University of Arizona.
Natalie won her first LPGA event at the Evian Masters in 2007. In addition to playing on three Solheim Cup teams, Natalie currently ranks fortieth on the all-time money list with $3,969,120.00. I first met Natalie at the 2007 U. S. Women’s Open immediately following her close friend Cristie Kerr’s victory at Pine Needles. She had long since finished her round (tie for 35th) but followed Kerr all the way to the end, waving a towel in celebration at the end. It was the first time I saw a fellow player follow someone in the gallery and it was somewhat inspiring. Although I had never watched her show on the Golf Channel, I did happen to catch her on Celebrity Apprentice earlier this year. As most golfers know, she has transcended the sport in a very savvy way.
I was intrigued to see if this girl was just a product of a massive marketing machine (which as the days pass by, I think Tiger Woods may be more and more) or if she had some depth to her beyond what we all see from a distance. The answer came quickly in my five minute interview. I knew the questions (mostly regarding golf architecture) I was about to ask would catch her off-guard and were probably not ones she had considered much. Right out of the gate I was impressed with her ability to break down each question quickly and succinctly considering the time constraints we were under. If you were ever interested in what she may think about golf courses and design, following is my interview with Natalie:
Richard: What is your favorite type of golf hole to play? A par 3, par 4, or par 5 and why?
Natalie: My favorite hole to play is a par 3. I’ve always loved par 3’s. They are a little bit more unique in character and I like to just hit one shot and then have a shot at birdie.
Richard: What’s your next must-play golf course, one course you haven’t ever played which you’d love to play?
Natalie: Augusta National. I have not played there or Cypress Point.
Richard: Augusta over Cypress or vice-versa?
Natalie: Cypress over Augusta.
Richard: Good choice, good choice. What golf course have you played that has had the most influence on your career and your game?
Natalie: Pebble Beach. It is my favorite golf course. You get such a unique experience when you are out there because it is such a beautiful place and then you have a great championship golf course there.
Richard: How do you analyze a golf course in preparation for a tournament?
Natalie: I try to simplify it and try not to read too much into it as far as just looking at bunkers that aren’t going to come into play or looking at spots that are not going to come into play. I really pay attention to the areas where I am going to be driving it, what’s there, and the areas where I want to put the ball on the green and areas I want to stay away from.
Richard: Do you look at the design of a golf course differently now than you did when you first got on tour?
Natalie: Absolutely. I look at everything quite a bit differently. I pay more attention to the greens. I pay more attention to which parts of the greens are firmer. I pay attention to how the golf course changes and ask more questions. Such as what has the weather been like here? I pay more attention to how the greens hold and how they change throughout the week.
Richard: What is your favorite course on tour?
Natalie: My favorite course on tour is Mar Lago in Florida where we used to play our Tour Championship. I really like where we play the Kraft Nabisco Championship - our first major – at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
Richard: If you were to get into golf course design, how would you sum up your potential design philosophy?
Natalie: I know that I’d make the greens small. I really love small greens. I love that when you hit the ball on a small green, you will have a chance to make birdie. I’m not the biggest fan of big greens or multiple tiers; I like a more classic golf course. I want to design a golf course where it uses every shot in your bag and I also like greens that you can see. I don’t like elevated greens.