So young, so rich, so talented and, of course, so beautiful. And yet, so unfulfilled. That was LPGA Tour star Natalie Gulbis in a nutshell somewhere around late July as she flew to Paris to take part in the Evian Masters.
On tour for 5-plus years, the 24-year-old Gulbis seemingly had it all ' her own TV show on the GOLF CHANNEL; close to $3 million in career earnings; endorsement deals from countless companies that totaled in the millions; a wildly successful calendar that often times showed off her near-flawless physique; and TV commercials where she starred alongside the likes of John Daly, Butch Harmon, Lee Trevino and David Feherty.
And, unfortunately for her, a growing comparison to Anna Kournikova ' she of tennis fame, who the media mercilessly ridiculed for being all flash and no substance. They pointed to the fact that Russian tennis star never won a singles titles in her sport, yet still was the top earner in endorsements off the court.
And the same was now being said of Gulbis ' sure shes beautiful and pretty, but what has she won? And the simple fact of the matter was she hadnt won anything.
Once before, almost a year to the date in fact, Gulbis had let her best-ever opportunity slip away when she lost in a three-hole playoff to Mi Hyun Kim at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. Following that loss, the usually upbeat Gulbis said of still being denied a trip to the winners circle, It sucks. It's not good. It's very difficult.
The first half of 2007 certainly didnt point to her breaking that winless slump as a back injury forced Gulbis to put away her clubs for an extended period and in the process dropped her way down the tours money list.
I was kind of thinking this might be a blessing in disguise with the injury, and I kept working on it and working on my posture and I kept hitting it further and all the things I wanted to happen on my golf swing started happening, said Gulbis.
A blessing in disguise no doubt, as she then made her way across the Atlantic to Paris.
Never a top-20 showing in her three previous trips to the Evian Masters, Gulbis got off to another auspicious start with an even-par 72 on the opening day. She got back into the mix with a second-round 69 and then trailed leader Juli Inkster by four as they headed into Sundays final round.
With three front-nine birdies and Inkster faltering, Gulbis found herself amongst the leaders and must have felt the pressure as she went 1 over par for her final nine holes. She then went to the range to keep warm in case she managed to make it into a playoff.
When Jeong Jang closed with three birdies on her last four holes she joined Gulbis at 4 under and off they went into sudden-death.
Before the playoff I was very upset at myself because I felt like I had given away this tournament, recalled Gulbis. Going in today I never thought that 4 under would have won this tournament. Cristie Kerr and Greg, my caddie, were there. And they kept saying, No, no. You could be in a playoff. You need to get over the fact that you're so pissed off and go and practice.
They were really good. It's amazing the people that support you right when you need them.
With her support in tow, and perhaps sensing something in the Parisian air, Gulbis made quick work of the playoff by hitting her second shot onto the putting surface at the 467-yard, par-5 18th. That's usually a par 5 that I cannot reach in two.
Meanwhile, Jang could not get up and down from off the green and had to settle for a par.
Now all that was facing the 24-year-old Gulbis for a chance to finally visit the winners circle, and at the same time shed that 800 lb. gorilla off her back, was an ever-so-simple tap in from about a foot.
As the putt dropped her arms raised high into the sky. All that hard work, all the doubt, all the critics answered. And ironically it came on something so simple as a tap-in putt.
But, of course, things are never that simple.
What does it mean? How long do you have? This is my sixth year on tour, and obviously the U.S. has been quite a bit of hype on if I would ever win a tournament, stated the freshly minted champion, who was doused with ' what else? ' Champagne after her victory. (Ive) just tried to stay positive, so that means a lot, that the hard work has paid off. So many great people supporting me in the U.S. from the media to my team to my fans. It's great.
One could only wonder if somewhere, someone whispered into Anna Kournikovas ear, Natalie has left the building.