It felt like a homecoming, even though they were 700 miles apart. On Thursday afternoon before the opening round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer, Team USA Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis stood in the interview area at the Dolce Seaview Resort Hotel in Galloway, N.J. and took questions with her most recent assistant captain Natalie Gulbis, who joined via Zoom from Atlanta, Ga.
Gulbis had intended to play this week at ShopRite, an event she has played 15 times and one that she loves for the large charitable contributions the tournament makes. But her back continues to bother her, so Gulbis joined electronically and gushed about the opportunity to be an assistant captain.
“Stacy has been such an incredible woman in my life and definitely one of the best friends I've ever had,” Gulbis said. “To be able to be with her during this, to be part of her captaincy, is really, really such an incredible honor.”
Gulbis played on three winning Solheim Cup teams for the U.S. in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and has a record of 5-4-1 in 10 matches. But more than the wins and losses, fans remember the passion she brought to team competition.
“To me, Solheims, as I look back on the 20 years of my career, they're the best weeks my career,” Gulbis said. “Even more than winning an individual event. Playing for your country, playing for your captain, it's just a tremendous honor. I loved everything about Solheims. The highs are higher, the lows are harder. Just the fondest most fun memories I've had have been in Solheim Cups.
“So I'm excited to be part of another one. It’s definitely in a different role. And for the younger players, for them to get to experience how excited I am, I can't wait. I wish it was this year. I can't believe that we have to wait until the end of next year for Solheim Cup. They're just such special events and it's been a privilege to be part of those. I'm really looking forward to helping Stacy any way that I can, any way that she needs us.”
Lewis and Gulbis became close friends during Bible study on the LPGA Tour. And when it came time to assemble a team of confidants to lead the U.S. effort, Lewis knew she wanted Gulbis and Morgan Pressel.
“Morgan is definitely my go-to for the clothes,” Lewis said. “I do know that. But I’m kind of checking things off as we go. For Natalie right now it's just watching players and seeing who is trending in the right direction. When we are making bigger decisions about things, I'll definitely pull everybody together. But right now it's logistics, behind the scenes, how things are going to function when we get to Spain.
“So (it’s) just getting Natalie on board. I think I'm going to stick with just Natalie and Morgan for the foreseeable future and see how the team comes together. If I need to add a third (assistant captain) we will. But I think right now the three of us are going to handle it and then see where we go from there.”
Gulbis said she hopes to make about 10 LPGA Tour starts this season, beginning at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. But Solheim will be on her mind throughout.
“I love Solheims but I really love to compete as well,” she said. “I'm looking forward to playing more this year and also to watching ShopRite on TV. I love to watch the players, and of course will be asterisking all the ones that are getting close for the USA team.”
The roles of the assistants might not be clearly defined yet, but Lewis knows one thing that she has with her newest assistant.
“The thing with Natalie is how stinking positive she is,” Lewis said. “I mean, I want that in the team room. I want the girls to feed off her energy. To see how much she loves the event is most important to me.”