Gulbis answers all the big questions
She was the phenom in women's golf before Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer were even in their teens.
Natalie Gulbis played in her first LPGA event at age 14, turned professional after only one year of college, and now, at the ripe old age of 21, is a three-year tour veteran.
It's clear that Gulbis has always been on the fast track, but ESPN.com was able to slow her down long enough to find out about her sex symbol status, her relationship with Ricky Barnes and -- oh yes -- her golf game, as well.
Gulbis: Playing in the final group on the weekend. Anytime you get in the final group on the weekend you get the cameras on you and big galleries, and just the fun of the competition.
Q: You've come close to winning a half-dozen times on the LPGA (her best finish is a T-5 at the 2002 Shoprite LPGA Classic). Do you feel any pressure to come away with a victory?
Gulbis: No, just the pressure that you put on yourself. Every week, you come out here to play to win. You don't come just to show up. I don't feel pressure from anybody else except for just meeting my own expectations.
Q: You turned pro at a young age. What do you think of the young up-and-comers who skip college or leave early to turn professional?
Gulbis: It works differently for everybody. We have a player on our tour, Cristie Kerr, (currently fifth on the LPGA money list) and she didn't go to college at all. And then you have some players that graduated. It's got to suit the individual. For me, I went to Arizona for a year and then I turned pro and I wouldn't take back that decision at all; it's been great for me.
Q: Have you played with Michelle Wie?
Gulbis: Yes -- quite a few times. You know, we're pretty decent friends, so when I have the chance I play practice rounds with her. I've been paired with her in majors and events she has been in...she brings so much positive publicity to our tour. When she comes to an event, it is just one extra positive thing that happens when people come out to see her. It's like Annika; anytime Annika is in an event, we get more press and more galleries.
Q: Do you think women should be allowed to play in men's PGA Tour events?
Gulbis: Well it's been nice last year. The players that did play, they handled themselves well and they played really well. Se Ri Pak actually finished 10th in the one in Korea. And Annika obviously brought tons of media to the tour (when she played in the PGA Tour's Colonial) and that's helped. I like them playing in all of the skins games and Annika held her own big time in the last skins game. She played great in that. But it's nice having them on our tour. It definitely adds to our events when you have the top players playing.
Q: Is there any friction at all between some of the "old-school" LPGA members and "new-school" LPGA members, as far as the appearance of the players and the change in style of dress?
Gulbis: Not at all for me. When I came out in my rookie year, I was a little intimidated in the beginning about playing with these players that I've always watched and seen, and these Hall of Fame members. But they were great to me and they embraced me and kind of helped me along with what I am supposed to do out here and what I wasn't. All of the players have been beyond fantastic to me. I thought it was going to be a lot more of an individual sport out here and the players were going keep to themselves and they've just been great to me -- Meg Mallon, Beth Daniel, Lorie Kane. I had just seen them on TV and I didn't know what they were going to be like but to play with them every day, they're great. Great to play with, great to be around. They are really easygoing. They just care about the tour and everyone loves playing golf for a living.
Q: Your 2004 calendar was very successful. What can you tell us about the 2005 calendar and the process of making it?
Gulbis: The 2005 has surpassed the 2004 by leaps and bounds. It's got a little bit more variety than the last one. It is doing really, really well. The first year's was really a trial because no one had come out with a calendar for a while and we weren't sure how to market it or really what to do with it. You get a little bit better with each year that goes on so now we've got it set up at all of the LPGA events and do signings. Right now, you can actually buy it on www.calendars.com which is a really huge website and we're trying to get it in the major bookstores. (Calendars are also available on Natalie's website, www.nataliegulbis.com).
Q: Do you see yourself as a sex symbol?
Gulbis: Not really. I see myself as an athlete and just try to market myself as a feminine athlete. I'm female. Whatever brings fans out to watch me is great. I like having fans and I love to play in front of them and have them cheer and root for me. Whatever brings them out.
Q: Is it difficult handling all of the autograph and fan requests that you get?
Gulbis: No, not at all. It's flattering. Every time I come home or at the end of the week or if I have fan stuff in my locker&even if it is after a good round or a bad round you read this stuff from all of these people. And maybe you've changed some kid's life, or you've inspired a young girl to practice a little bit more, or now the parents are going to get their kids involved in golf. That's really special. I do golf because I love it, but if it can actually touch other people, it's pretty phenomenal.
Q: You are friends with Ricky Barnes. You guys spend some time together?
Gulbis: We went to school together at Arizona. So when I train in Phoenix, I train at the facility adidas has. We usually hang out and go to a basketball game or go play golf. If there is an Arizona alumni thing, they usually bring us out to do clinics and stuff like that.
Q: Is there anything more to your relationship?
Gulbis: No. Not right now.
Q: What do you look for in a potential boyfriend?
Gulbis: I definitely seem to go towards athletes. I can relate to them and we usually have a little bit more in common and they like to go and do things. But I am pretty much interested in someone who is passionate about whatever it is they do. Whether it is being a lawyer or being an artist or being just someone who is driven, like myself.
Q: Who are your idols?
Gulbis: I don't really have any idols. I learn from a lot of different athletes that I come across. I appreciate what they do as an athlete, but I don't have really have anyone who I want to be just like. I train with Mia Hamm and I've picked her brain a few times and I love hearing about her and how successful she is as an athlete. I've gotten the chance to meet Barry Bonds a couple times and I love asking him questions about training and about being an athlete. And the same thing with Tiger. I love just picking their brains and he and I definitely look up to a lot of athletes in all of their respective sports.
Q: Who do you follow on the PGA Tour?
Gulbis: I like Darren Clarke and Adam Scott. We have the same instructor (Butch Harmon) here in Vegas. I am a big fan of Ernie Els. I really wanted to see him win one of these last two majors; I was pulling hard for him. Phil Mickelson, of course. He's an exciting player to watch.
Q: What would it mean to you to someday make the Solheim Cup team?
Gulbis: Oh, that definitely is one of my top goals. As a golfer, to represent the United States in the Solheim Cup would be huge. But I also hope that golf gets close to being an Olympic sport too, because I would love to represent the USA in the Olympics.
Q: What is the most difficult or challenging part of competing on tour?
Gulbis: Just the weather. Sometimes we get some pretty wicked weather storms on the East Coast. You always have delays, so if you have a morning time you can be teeing off at 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon and then to finish your round come back at 6:30 or 7 the next morning. The weather is just very unpredictable. You think you have got the whole day planned and you're going to be teeing off at 9 o'clock. Things change or you get pulled on and off the golf course and you can be out there for eight or nine hours and get in five or six holes.
Q: Why do you have such a strong passion for golf?
Gulbis: I just love it. I mean, you can play it all over the world. Every single day is different. You can never have the same shot twice. The weather is always different. The competition is always different. Just when you think you've figured it out, it kind of throws you a curveball. You can play with your mom or your dad, or your kids, or your husband, or your friends. All different levels can play. It doesn't discriminate against anything. And I just enjoy it. I love being outside. I get to travel all over the world. I can't imagine just practicing indoor all of the time. My office could be at Pebble Beach one week and the next week it could be over at St. Andrews.
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