With the Solheim Cup being held in Sweden this week, it is an appropriate time to catch up on women's golf, and one player in particular: Natalie Gulbis. This in turn will lead us to Jeanne Carmen, who was one of the most remarkable female golfers. It wouldn't be surprising if only a few readers have heard of her, yet her story would be great source material for a Hollywood treatment.
Golfer turned pin-up Natalie Gulbis. Photo courtesy of FHM.
When Natalie Gulbis won the Evian Masters event in France, it was her first LPGA tour victory even though she has been competing on the tour for six years and is one of its more recognizable names. The reason she is such a prominent player can be gleaned by media reaction to her victory. "Glamour girl Natalie Gulbis breaks into the winners circle!" blared the cover of Golf World, and its listing of the article on its contents page referred to her as "not just another pretty face." The headline on Sports Wire that week was, "Pinup Gulbis Wins 1st LPGA Tour Title."
Yes, the fact is that Gulbis is gorgeous. She along with Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, and a few others have literally changed the face of the LPGA Tour because they are young, very attractive, and ambitious women. Gulbis might be the most ambitious because of the way
she has marketed herself, which has depended more on her looks than her record. Go to www.nataliegulbis.com and you'll see what I mean. She has a reality TV show, an alluring fashion spread, a photo gallery, she hawks the Natalie Gulbis Mastercard
, she heads Club Natalie, and again this year she has a very popular pinup calendar.
She has been chided as being the Anna Kournakova of golf for making more of an impression off the court/course than on. However, her victory in France stops that talk as does her earning a spot on the Solheim Cup's U.S. squad. The match will be held at Halmstad, Sweden. The Americans hold at 6-3 record in the competition, which is the female version of the Ryder Cup, with the visiting team having won only once in those 18 years. It is expected that this week over 100,000 fans will cheer on a European squad that includes six Scandinavians, four of them Swedes.
With the PGA's Tour Championship also being held, what a week this is for golf! Who needs football? And of course the baseball pennant races . . . It was certainly rewarding for this sports fan to see in the past week the three men who are the best in their respective sports triumph - Tiger Woods
, Roger Federer, and Alex Rodriguez
Gulbis is the most prominent sports pinup now, but the one who got it all going for women in sports was Jeanne Carmen. She was the Rita Hayworth of golf.
She was born in August 1930 in Arkansas and grew up picking cotton with her family. She was too lively and ambitious - and gorgeous - for that, so in only her mid-teens she ran off to New York City
. She was a model for racy magazines of the day, such as Rogue and Glance. She was also auditioning for acting jobs
, and it was at this time that she met someone who would become her best friend, Marilyn Monroe
, another gorgeous girl from the sticks. At 17, she was hired to do a photo shoot at a golf emporium in Manhattan run by Jack Redmond, who among other things was a professional trick shot artist.
Pin-up turned golfer Jeanne Carmen. Photo courtesy of JeanneCarmen.com
Jeanne was eager to learn. Redmond, with help from his pal Jimmy Demaret, a PGA Tour winning player who had won the Masters three times, the two taught her everything they knew about golf and a few trick shots too. Her first full round of golf was at Winged Foot where, playing with Perry Como and from the men's tees and barefoot, she shot an 80. She did trick shots too, including smacking a ball 228 yards with a rubber-shafted club that wrapped around her neck on the backswing.
She and Redmond hit the road, doing exhibitions on the country club circuit, with a scantily clad Carmen doing trick shots involving infatuated men. The grand finale was to have a man lie on the ground and clench a tee between his teeth, and Carmen placed a golf ball on it. Redmond would ask, "Have you ever done this before?" She would reply, "Sure," then take a practice swing so sloppy she almost bashed the guy in his head. Supposedly, she never missed the golf ball, though.
During their travels she found a husband, an opera singer no less. He fought with Redmond, who had fallen in love with Carmen. At one point she left them both, taking off with gangster Johnny Roselli for Las Vegas, which was ruled by Roselli's boss, Sam Giancana.
During the 1950s, Jeanne was a golf queen in Vegas, and in her spare time became the lover of both Frank Sinatra
and Elvis Presley
. Then she headed to Hollywood where she was reunited with Marilyn
and made a bunch of B movies including "Untamed Youth," "Portland Expose," "Striporama," and "Born Reckless." In 1962, believing that Monroe was murdered by the Mob, she fled to Arizona.
Last I checked, Jeanne Carmen lives in "retirement" in Arizona, and turned 77 in August. Google her to see the amazing number of web sites that are devoted to her and carry related merchandise. She herself makes money this way. Her own pinups might seem a tad tame today but they still show what a bombshell she was in the 1950s. A half-century later, Natalie Gulbis still has some catching up to do.
Carmen was on "Larry King Live" in August 2003 as one of several people interviewed on the anniversary of Monroe's death, but otherwise her story has not gotten much exposure.
Locally, September is benefit golf season. Quite a few organizations in these parts have their fundraisers on the local links on Mondays and Tuesdays and the weather is more pleasant. Some of them are actually bargains when you consider the opportunity to play a fine course, be wined and dined, and the donation is tax-deductible.
Three benefits are coming up that will be fun events. One is the Sag Harbor Chamber
of Commerce's 18th annual golf tournament, which will be on Tuesday, September 18, at the Noyac Golf and Country Club. For registration information, call 631-725-8209. Next up is the second annual golf tourney for the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in Southampton. This will be held at Montauk Downs
State Park on Monday, September 24, and info can be had by calling 631-255-0412. The very next day at Montauk Downs is third annual golf event for the scholarship and education fund of the American Institute of Architects of Peconic. To sign up, call 631-728-7832.