Made for TV

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – I have a confession. “Celebrity Apprentice” has not been on my must-see TV list Sunday nights. Actually, I haven’t watched The Donald drop an F bomb (fired, that is) since the days of Omarosa.

That, however, didn’t stop me from asking Natalie Gulbis about tomorrow’s season finale. NBC will have a private plane waiting Sunday evening to whisk Gulbis from Williamsburg to the live taping in New York. Gulbis already has been fired from the show, but they’ve asked all the celebrities to return for the last episode.

It’s great exposure for the LPGA, especially with Gulbis being in contention here at the Michelob Ultra Open, trailing by five strokes after three rounds.

Regrettably, it’s rare for the LPGA to be on network TV these days, making Gulbis’ showing even more significant. Part of today’s round even got bumped from ESPN2 because the first round of the NCAA Lacrosse Championship ran long. Gulbis and Co. were relegated to ESPN Classic while Brown and Johns Hopkins duked it out. That’s both embarrassing and unfortunate because any time Gulbis sniffs the lead (she trailed by two at the time), ratings soar.

Gulbis said the folks at IMG showed her numbers this week indicating how much exposure she has gotten from “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“I don’t know what they are exactly, but pretty significant,” Gulbis said as she made her way down a packed autograph line. “That just came from being on a show where you were getting nine million viewers each week on network TV.”

Gulbis said the entire “Celebrity” taping lasted two weeks and producers asked her to stick around until the last episode. Her people and “Celebrity” producer Mark Burnett’s people are having conversations about making another golf-based show for Gulbis. She loved having her own reality show on Golf Channel, and would like to do something similar on another station, presumably with a bigger audience.

“Would you do “Celebrity Survivor?” a fan asked at the mention of Burnett’s name (also his show).

Gulbis doesn’t have to win tournaments to turn heads. But it certainly helps that she no longer feels pain when she hits the ball. Gulbis took off several months last year to rehab her lower back and was pain-free when she teed it up at the season-opener in Hawaii. By the Kraft Nabisco, she couldn’t even practice after her rounds, heading straight to the physio trailer for hours of treatment.

Gulbis skipped Morelia’s tournament to get healthy again and now goes in before each round for a few minutes to stretch and get ice and heat. Thankfully for everyone, the pain is gone.

“It’s nice to swing free and to know that you can hit a shot out of the rough and not get jarred up somehow,” she said.

Cristie Kerr was frustrated just watching her good friend struggle with the pain, recommending doctors and physical therapists.

“She has just kept doing her rehab, and she keeps on top of it because her golf swing, as she will tell you, is the reason why her back’s been messed up,” Kerr said. “She’s working very hard to make it simpler so she doesn’t have that big dip and put that strain on her back.”

No matter what Gulbis does tomorrow, either at Kingsmill or in New York, it will pale in comparison to the buzz created by her swimsuit calendars. Last year Gulbis deviated from the bikini-clad look and put out an all-golf calendar with a picture of her holding the Evian Masters trophy on the cover. Fully clothed, mind you.

“The sales were really good with the swimsuit,” said Gulbis, who used her calendars to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “When I went to a golf calendar, they didn’t do as well.”

Shocking.

While she did put out a golf calendar in Japan, Gulbis chose not to release one in the U.S. this year. From the sound of it, TV is more of a priority for golf’s glamour girl.

No word on whether or not bikinis will be involved.

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