Just then Natalie bounded up and squealed, "Derek is going to send a private jet on Sunday night to take us from Pittsburgh to Florida because he needs me there by 10 a.m. on Monday. He wants to auction me off second behind Michael Jordan!"
John threw his hands in the air and bellowed, "See what I mean!" It would have made great TV.
Moments later John and Natalie hopped into her 10-cylinder Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 truck and made the quick drive to the Santa Monica offices of MTV to meet with Lauren Dolgen, the manager of original programming and series development, and Blythe Cappello, senior talent director. Murray passed out copies of Gulbis's calendar as if they were business cards, saying, "The company behind this handles all the big calendars-- Pamela Anderson, Anna Kournikova, Playboy. They're giving up on Kournikova and putting all their energy behind Natalie." Noting the heavy traffic on nataliegulbis.com, Murray said, "We think she's about two minutes away from exploding. She has the chance to transcend her sport."
Gulbis sat mutely while Murray and Burns offered their pitches, but under cross-examination by the MTV execs she was cool and composed. Asked why she wanted to have "cameras invade every aspect of her life," she didn't flinch, saying, "I have an amazing life, and I'm very excited about sharing it. Professional athletes are not like everybody else, and I think it would be interesting for fans to get behind the scenes." Hearing this, Burns couldn't suppress a smile.
"What's the next step for your career?" Cappello asked.
"To create a brand, become a household name, like Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods. To be seen not just as a golfer but as a personality."
"How do you get there?"
Here John interrupted. "Play better golf," he said.
natalie was taught the game by her father, and as a Sacramento amateur she had tremendous success with her homemade swing, taking the California Amateur at age 14 and winning four tournaments in her one season in college, at Arizona. But her long, loose swing depends largely on timing and raw athleticism, and since her first year as a pro she has been toiling with Butch Harmon to develop a shorter, more repeatable action. "She's an extremely hard worker and has made great progress toward a more technically sound swing," says Harmon. "Now she needs to start scoring and eliminating mistakes. She has the kind of talent where she should be in the top 10 or 15 every week."
Among the longest hitters in the women's game, Gulbis ranked 21st last year in total birdies, yet she had only two top 10 finishes, often going backward when she was in contention. "It's hard to be patient and not force things because I want to win so badly," she says. Her immodest goals for 2005 are to make the Solheim Cup team and not only get her first victory but also "win a few times."