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Published: Sunday, 7/16/2006

1 motorcyclist still remains in Gulbis' life

Natalie Gulbis was gushing about the special motorcycle she is having built for her dad.

It is a custom-made chopper, costing somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000.

It is to be delivered in September or October.

Gulbis, locked in a three-way tie for the lead when third-round play was suspended last night at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic presented by Kroger, can't wait to hand the keys to her father.

"I don't ride bikes, but my dad really enjoys them," she said. "It's a tribute bike to him. It's a pretty special present."

John, a retired probation officer with long hair and a shaggy beard, taught Natalie how to golf at age 4.

Since his daughter joined the LPGA Tour five years ago, John has served as her unofficial driver, golf consultant and marketing person.

Obviously, he is revved up to receive his new present, which is patterned after a motorcycle from the 1940s.

"It's a pretty low bike, and it has big tires and lots of fenders," John said. "It will have a lot of artwork on it, too, including a bunch of pictures of Natalie, and some white tigers.

"I'm ready to ride it. I can't wait. It's going to be beautiful."

Gulbis and her dad dropped by the shop in Fredrick, Md. - Metropolitan Choppers - last month where the upscale bike is being built to check on its progress.

Natalie helped put a few pieces on the front end of the chopper. A television crew filmed the segment and it will eventually be shown on Natalie's reality TV show on the Golf Channel.

"She put the front wheel on the bike, so we'll have to re-check it before I take it for a spin," John said, laughing.

Hopefully, he'll be smart enough to put on a helmet.

Natalie's former boyfriend, Steelers' Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, barely survived a horrific motorcycle crash last month in Pittsburgh after a car turned in front of him.

Big Ben broke his nose and jaw and was thrown over the car and onto the pavement.

He had seven hours of facial reconstruction surgery and was cited for riding without a license and not wearing a helmet.

A year ago, Gulbis and Roethlisberger were the most popular and photographed pairing in the pro-am portion of the Farr. They were the most talked about twosome in northwest Ohio, from Archbold to Findlay to Walbridge.

But not long after the last putt dropped on last year's tournament, celebrity life finally caught up to Gulbis and Roethlisberger. They drifted apart. Their long-distance romance ended.

Asked yesterday for her thoughts on Roethlisberger's decision to ride helmetless, or if she had talked to her ex since his nasty spill, the 23-year-old Gulbis blushed.

She politely brushed aside the question.

"Awww," she said, biting her lip. "Can you ask me about me?"

With that, the blonde-haired, green-eyed Gulbis headed to the clubhouse, with her dad in tow.

She was the second-round leader at 9-under after finishing off a 66 early yesterday afternoon on a waterlogged Highland Meadows course more suited for a canoe.

In the third round, Gulbis dropped a birdie putt at No. 17 - her final hole of the day - and was 12-under when play was halted. She is tied for the top spot with winless Reilley Rankin and five-time winner Mi Hyun Kim.

With more than $2 million in career earnings, Gulbis is probably the best LPGA golfer not to have won a tournament.

But she's in great position today to capture that elusive first title in her 126th start.

All Gulbis has to do is play steady golf, the way she has the first three days.

If she does, the $180,000 first-place check will easily cover the cost of her dad's chopper, and she will still have a sizable chunk left to deposit in the bank.

Contact Blade columnist

Ron Musselman at:

mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474.



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