Back in the day: Natalie Gulbis
In our new espnW series, elite athletes look back with a memory from their rookie days.
About 10 years ago when I was first turning professional and joining the LPGA, I trained alongside Tiger Woods at the Butch Harmon School of Golf. We all had lockers, but Tiger would leave his clubs in the office.
I got there a little early one day, and I was just looking at his equipment. I would never touch his clubs when he was around, but if he wasn’t there, I’d look at his wedges, or try to see something special about them.
Well, apparently I got a little too close, and I spilled my soy latte all over his grips and his gloves. It was a week before the Masters, and I knew he would not be excited to have to re-grip all of his equipment or get a new bag, so I tried furiously to clean everything up.
I did it before anybody could see me, and to this day I’ve never told him. I knew he’d be pissed that I was even touching his stuff, let alone spilling my coffee on it! But I watched him on TV the next week, and not only did I not see any visible stains, but he won the Masters.
These days Tiger doesn’t train with Butch Harmon, so I only see him a couple of times a year. But in those first five or six years, I learned a lot from Tiger. He gave me tips about golf, and advice about being on tour, and really just taught me how to practice.
At that time, Tiger was winning everything and everybody knew who he was. I felt really fortunate to have an inside look at what the best in the world did. While I never managed to steal any secrets from his clubs, watching how he practiced was incredibly motivating. I would say 80 percent of the time he arrived before me and left after me. He always outworked everybody -- it was really remarkable.
The best tip he ever gave me was the importance of training, rain or shine. In Las Vegas where I live it’s almost always beautiful, and I’d like to skip out when it was nasty outside. He’d say to me, “What, you don’t think you play tournaments in bad weather? Throughout your career you’re going to play in every single condition imaginable.”
And he was right -- I play all over the world in rain, snow, wind and cold, and practicing in the elements was absolutely essential prep for all of that.