LPGA star Gulbis plans to have Tahoe-style fun during celebrity golf tournament | TahoeDailyTribune.com

LPGA star Gulbis plans to have Tahoe-style fun during celebrity golf tournament

LPGA pro and Sacramento native Natalie Gulbis is playing in her first American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament this year.

Have a boat? You might attract a professional golfer.

Natalie Gulbis wants to take in everything Lake Tahoe has to offer while she's on the South Shore for the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, and that includes boating on Big Blue.

"I need to make a friend with a boat," joked Gulbis, a 35-year-old LPGA star from Sacramento, during a recent telephone press conference. "I'm going to play in the blackjack tournament and go to the Rascal Flatts' karaoke night and every other activity. I love Rascal Flatts and I'm excited to see them. And I've never been in a blackjack tournament. That will be fun, too."

The phone conference included three-time defending champ Mark Mulder, a former MLB pitcher, and Super Bowl MVP quarterback Mark Rypien, who won the tournament in its first year (1990) and claimed another title 25 years later (2014).

Gulbis is one of the favorites to win the 29th annual event that runs Friday through Sunday, July 13-15, at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and is televised nationally on NBC and NBCSN. Dave Cudney from Harrah's and Harveys Race and Sports Book installed Gulbis as a 10-1 favorite, behind Mulder (5-2), Tony Romo (3-1), Mardy Fish (5-1), Eric Gagne (8-1) and alongside John Smoltz (10-1). Rypien is 12-1.

The purse is $600,000 with the champion earning $125,000.

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"First off, let me just say I think that these guys play more golf than I do," Gulbis said. "I'm pretty confident that a lot of these players play a lot more golf than I do.

"And second is I think that I will fare well. I love Edgewood. I love that golf course. Even though I have to play from back tees, it is from altitude. So hopefully I don't have too long of clubs coming into the green. We used to have this event on tour called the Wendy's 3 Tour, where the LPGA and PGA and Champions Tour competed against each other. And we could equally compete against the men on other tours as long as the tees were stacked. But when you put the LPGA players back to the men's tees, then I'm sure all those guys will outdrive me by 100 yards and reach the par 5. That's where, hopefully, consistency evens out."

Gulbis grew up rooting for the Oakland A's and San Francisco 49ers. As a child, her parents would take her to Lake Tahoe for the celebrity tournament. She remembers standing around the water at Edgewood and trying to get the most autographs possible.

As a pro, she thought the tournament would be "cool" to play in and her fire was really stoked when women's golf legend Annika Sörenstam played in 2014.

"It was such a fun week and such a fun part of my childhood as a junior golfer," Gulbis said. "I just had such fond memories of going to this event, to see so many athletes that I already looked up to that also played golf and now to have the opportunity to play, I feel like I've been begging them to let me play for a couple of years. So I'm glad they accepted it."

Gulbis, an 18-year LPGA veteran, is coming off a three-year hiatus from playing golf due to three back surgeries. She has played in five events since her return, missing three cuts. She originally earned her LPGA card when she was 18. She has 37 top 10s and career earnings of almost $5 million. She won one of the tour's most prestigious events in 2007, the Evian Masters.

She's excited to continue her comeback on a course she loves to play — one that she says is comparable to other beautiful courses around the world.

"I've been fortunate to be able to play golf all over the world, and to play a golf course with great views, I love that," Gulbis said. "But I also like that the golf course is that you have to be in certain parts of the fairways to attack certain placements. And you have to think your way around it because it's at altitude. And that's something that I always loved about playing golf up there, different from Sacramento, and something that I enjoyed playing on tour, too, is having to make adjustments for altitude."