U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Gulbis Plays Way into Women's Open Field
June 2, 2015 | Galloway Township, N.J.
By David Shefter, USGA
Natalie Gulbis’ week at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open just got a little busier.
The 32-year-old from Henderson, Nev., who is in her 14th season on the LPGA Tour, was already scheduled to appear at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club for Lexus, one of her corporate sponsors.
But a spot in the 156-player field wasn’t guaranteed until Tuesday morning, when Gulbis completed her final three holes of a weather-delayed sectional qualifier at Galloway National Golf Club. Three consecutive pars punctuated a second-round 73 on the 6,343-yard, par-71 layout, giving Gulbis a 36-hole total of 3-under 139 and medalist honors by two strokes over a field of 67 starters.
“That would have been a bummer to be there with Lexus and not be playing,” said Gulbis, who will be competing in her 14th Women’s Open.
Nontaya Srisawang, 27, of Thailand, garnered the other qualifying spot at 1-under 141 (68-73).
Only three golfers returned to the course for Tuesday’s conclusion after Monday’s round was suspended at 7:44 p.m. EDT due to darkness, following a nearly two-hour afternoon rain delay. Gulbis, Srisawang and 18-year-old amateur Samantha Wagner, of Orlando, Fla., battled for the two spots, with Wagner making a bogey 5 at 18 to finish at even-par 142 (70-72) for first-alternate status. LPGA Tour player Min Seo Kwak, 24, of the Republic of Korea, who completed her 36 holes on Monday, earned second-alternate status at 1-over 143 (73-70).
Gulbis set the pace with a course-record 66 on Monday morning that included seven birdies and two bogeys, when conditions were ideal for scoring. A light drizzle gave way to sunshine and Gulbis took advantage by firing her lowest score of the year. In fact, it was the best competitive score ever shot at Galloway National, a 20-year-old Tom Fazio design that has hosted the Ivy League Championship, NCAA Division I men’s golf regionals and the 2012 USGA Men’s State Team Championship. The previous best score by anyone had been a 67.
When the winds picked up and a thunderstorm rolled through in the afternoon, the course became much more challenging. Gulbis failed to muster a birdie, but had only two bogeys. She was on the seventh green, her 16th hole of the afternoon and 34th of the day, facing a 12-foot birdie putt when play was suspended. A tired Gulbis, who missed the cut at last week’s ShopRite LPGA Classic just down the road at the Seaview Resort’s Bay Course, was more than happy to return Tuesday morning.
“I felt the 15th season today,” said Gulbis on Tuesday after receiving her USGA medal for having the lowest score. “I was done yesterday. I couldn’t see well. I was happy to come back.”
This could be one of Gulbis’ last appearances in a U.S. Women’s Open, a journey that began in 2001 at Pine Needles Resort & Lodge as an 18-year-old amateur and includes a tie for fourth in 2005 at Cherry Hills Country Club. Fifteen seasons as a professional golfer – she turned pro in July of 2001 – have taken their toll, in the form of two back surgeries and hip surgery in the past decade. She injured her hip in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, which wound up being her last event of the season.
Her recent marriage to Josh Rodarmel has Gulbis focused on starting a family, and television work has also entered the equation. Fox Sports, which signed a 12-year deal to broadcast USGA championships starting this year, has hired the ebullient Gulbis to work selected events. She was an on-course reporter at last month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and will also work at the upcoming U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open. She wasn’t scheduled for the Women’s Open.
“I love working with Fox,” said Gulbis, who does a monthly show on Sirius/XM Radio with another Fox Sports golf announcer, Debbie Doniger. “Fox is awesome. It’s pretty special to do stuff with Fox. They really want to do some cool things in golf. And I’m excited to be part of that.”
Gulbis, who has 37 career top-10 finishes with her lone LPGA Tour victory coming in the 2007 Evian Masters (before it was designated a major championship), has said 2015 will be her last as a full-time player. This season, she has made four cuts in seven starts, with a tie for 25th at the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout her best finish.
Gulbis said a practice round on May 25 with Galloway’s director of golf, Jason Lamp, gave her some confidence going into the sectional qualifier. Lamp also gave Gulbis’ longtime caddie, Greg Sheridan, a tour of the course the previous day, and that preparation was vital to her performance.
“I thought even par would qualify,” said Gulbis of her target score. “I actually hit it well. It was nice to make seven birdies the first round.”
Gulbis didn’t change her mindset for Round 2, nor was she focused on what anyone else was shooting.
“You don’t really follow them because you can’t control what other people do,” said Gulbis. “I was thinking that par would be a good score. The course was wet, plus it was windy and cold.”
With Gulbis in front the entire day, the battle for the second qualifying spot came down to Srisawang, a member of the Ladies European Tour who came to southern New Jersey in the hopes of qualifying for last week’s LPGA Tour event, and Wagner, who is headed to the University of Florida in the fall. Both stood at 1 under par when play was suspended on Monday. Wagner bogeyed No. 18, while Srisawang made a brilliant up-and-down par at 17 and a two-putt par from the fringe on 18 to land a spot in her first U.S. Women’s Open.
Srisawong will be making her third major-championship appearance, having missed the cut in the last two Ricoh Women’s British Opens. Wagner is the first alternate in a Women’s Open sectional qualifier for the second time in four years.
Gulbis, meanwhile, didn’t have much time to celebrate. She had an 8:40 a.m. pro-am starting time on Wednesday at the LPGA Tour’s Manulife Classic in Waterloo, Ontario. She is also scheduled to play next week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club before going to Chambers Bay and then Del Paso Country Club in her native Sacramento, Calif., to work the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open, respectively, for Fox.
Then she will have a week off to rest and prepare for the Women’s Open, which kicks off another four-week stretch of events.
It’s no wonder that Gulbis wants to slow down.
“I thought I would be out here [on the LPGA Tour] for 10 years, so it’s just been a huge blessing that I have been able to play so long,” said Gulbis. “I love playing golf and I love playing on tour, too. I’m just not going to play full-time. I have to figure out how that’s going to work.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.