I've been fortunate to meet my fair share of influential people over 16 years on tour. But never can I remember any of them (several U.S. presidents included) garnering more attention than Donald Trump. Now more than ever, no matter where I go, people want to know about The Donald.
What's he like? How's his golf game? Do you still keep in touch? The list goes on.
In short, I've played many rounds with him. He's a good player (and a sneaky-great putter). He has always made time for my calls, and has offered some great advice over the years. If I could only tell you one thing about him, it's that he's probably the hardest working individual I've ever met.
But I want to go a little deeper. The commentary that follows is not about policy or who I think you should vote for in November. Instead, it's one woman's story about Donald Trump written in hopes that you might get to know him a little better through my experiences. I realize he has made his share of controversial remarks, but in my experience, I have found him to be gracious, generous and inspiring. He encouraged me to look at myself as a brand and as a professional golfer with a huge platform to grow the game of golf, regardless of my gender. Because of that, I have always found political rhetoric about Trump's misogynistic "war on women" to be inconsistent with the Trump I know.
The first time I met Donald I was 21 years old playing in my first Tour Championship at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Florida. I had just finished my practice round and was walking to the locker room—which looked more like a five-star spa—when I saw Mr. Trump chatting with a group of men in suits.
"Natalie! Congratulations on making it to your first Tour Championship," he said in a booming voice. "I see you're leading the tour in birdies this year. What do you think of the course?" How did he even know that? If he knew that I also led the tour in bogeys that year, he didn't mention it. I replied nervously, "It’s beautiful! And I'm trying to stay away from the gigantic waterfall left of 17." He laughed. As far as first impressions go, he could not have been a better host. All 30 players stayed at his mansion at nearby Mar-a-Lago during the event. He strolled around in an immaculate suit and tie—even at breakfast—and chatted with players about golf and life, making a point of knowing each person's name and making everyone feel important.
Days later when I played my first round with Donald, he offered me a simple idea that changed my life forever. We talked marketing and business. He has a way of cutting through small talk and digging into areas where he can have an impact. When he asked me about my goals—which would become a recurring theme in future conversations—his advice was simple: "Never fear challenging the status quo." Not only does that advice seem to be something he is following with great success in his campaign, but it's also something I've taken with me to the sports marketing world. Donald was adamant that in endorsement deals I should request and fight for equal pay that men were receiving. He believed any notion that I should accept less money than a PGA Tour player for appearances or endorsement contracts was just plain wrong. His advice proved invaluable for me in my career, and I owe much of my success to his idea of staying true to my convictions and not being afraid to rock the boat.
Several years later, I was playing with him again at Mar-a-Lago when he turned to me and said, "Have you seen my television show? We're going to do a celebrity version of it and I'd love for you to be on it."
I had seen "The Apprentice." Who hadn't? It was cutthroat and competitive, and it featured a lot of arguing, so I wasn't sure I was a fit. But Donald said that as a participant I would achieve three things: grow the game of golf, draw positive attention to the LPGA, and raise money to start my own Boys and Girls Club, which he knew was one of my life goals.
"You're going to be on prime time for two hours on the highest-rated show on television," he said. "You'll raise so much money."
Sounds like Donald, right? So, I signed the contract to appear on the second season of "Celebrity Apprentice," and we began filming October 1, 2009, shortly after my LPGA Tour season ended. I had no idea who else would be on the show, or how it would all come together. I just trusted that Donald would be able to keep his promise.
During our first day, I was in a room with three other people: Khloe Kardashian, Dennis Rodman and the late Joan Rivers. I wanted to run away. What was I thinking? How would I be raising money? Eventually, the rest of the cast rolled in, we began filming, and many of us became friends. One year later, largely because of the money and awareness Donald helped me raise on that show, I opened my own Boys and Girls Club in Henderson, Nevada. It's my greatest professional accomplishment, and it wouldn't have been possible without Donald and his passion to raise money for charity.
As you can tell, he has had a tremendous impact on me, both as a female golfer and an entrepreneur. He's helped me think of new ways to grow women's golf, advised me to never accept the first offer, and emphasized time and again that there's room for women's golf in a crowded sports world.
I last saw Donald at the 2015 Women's British Open at Turnberry. My husband, Josh, and I sat with Donald, his children and their spouses. Donald had a stack of papers he was reviewing in preparation for the first debate. Most of the talk was about Turnberry, Donald's renovation project. He was also interested to hear about Lydia Ko—our top ranked player. "What makes her so good?" he asked.
As usual, he wanted to know more about winners. That never-ending desire to learn more about and from the best in any field, that's the Donald Trump I know.