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Up close and personal: Golf Channel’s Lauren Thompson

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She’s poured the perfect Guinness in Ireland, outplayed poker pros in Las Vegas, swam with dolphins in Hawaii, and even wrestled an alligator in Orlando. And oh by the way, she’s also done some sizzling bikini modeling you might have seen. She’s of course Golf Channel’s sultry Lauren Thompson. And this accomplished Southern Belle with a megawatt smile can make any story interesting.

Thompson earned her marketing degree at the University of Central Florida, and joined Golf Channel in 2009. She currently hosts the wildly popular Golf Channel shows “Top 10” and “GolfNow” (formerly Destination Golf). You can additionally catch Thompson on the newly expanded morning show “Morning Drive,” and every year she’s Golf Channel’s celebrity interviewer for the PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge. Thompson is also a celebrated actress and model, appearing in numerous television commercials, music videos, and print magazine publications and a talented anchor for the SEC Digital Network.But before you scroll feverishly through the juicy pictures that follow and swoon over her flawless bikini body, let me tell you a bit about “Laurenology.”

Laurenology is about making you feel relaxed and lightheaded, like you’ve been sipping Jack and Coke all morning. Laurenology is about making you feel high and full of promise, the promise of a better day, the promise of a greater hope, the promise of a new tomorrow. Laurenology is about making every, little, rotten thing about life seem like it’s going to be OK.

Thompson’s fiery beauty most certainly catches your eye. But it’s her live wire personality that ultimately captures your heart. So buckle up. You’re about to see a private, revealing side of Thompson you’ve never seen before. “Destination Laurenology” is coming right at you.

P.P: Well first of all Lauren, we’ve been at this some time haven’t we? Thanks so much. And let me be the first to wish you Happy St. Paddy’s Day.

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L.T: Thanks for having me Pete… how long have we been swapping emails, maybe a year? That qualifies us to say we go “way back.” Beers on me for St. Paddy’s Day, green beer of course.

P.P: Golf Channel made a big change in February revamping “Morning Drive” with a bold new look and new on air talent. How has your role on the show expanded?

L.T: It’s been a wild ride with Golf Channel. I was initially hired back in 2009 as the host for “Top 10,” then things really took off when I snagged the spot with the travel series, “GolfNow.”

“Morning Drive” was a surprise. I started filling in as a weekly contributor with “Top Ten Things You May Have Missed” – a fun and fast-paced Monday morning rundown of how the weekend shook out in sports and entertainment. I had a blast putting that segment together.

Then when “Morning Drive” made the move to seven days a week, they pretty much had you covered. And that’s when I joined the family for good, covering the news, and making sure the boys behaved weekdays on-air.

Turning this night-owl into a “Morning Person” wasn’t easy, but working day in-day out with the greatest people in golf television makes it something that you’re thankful for every day. Yes, even when that alarm goes off at 3:45 a.m.

P.P: Rory McIlroy of course agreed to a massive endorsement deal with Nike Golf earlier this year. And more recently Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders inked an endorsement deal of her own with Cobra Puma Golf. Every golf fan dreams of Tour sponsorship. What company or companies would you love to be sponsored by?

L.T: I always say that I’m into the “Three G’s” – golf, glam, and grub. I’m a shameless beginner in golf, but my passion in growing the game goes hand in hand with so many products out on the market today. I’ve also been approached by a couple of equipment companies. It has to be the right fit.

P.P: Who are your mentors or role models in this field?

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L.T: I have very clear memories of watching golf on Sunday afternoons with my grandfather. He was a retired Eastern Airlines pilot who would always wind down on the weekends with golf on TV, and sometimes a glass of scotch in his hand.

My dad also loved the game, but unfortunately passed away from a brain tumor when I was one-year old. Learning to play recreationally in college provided a connection to him. It was obvious why both of these men loved the game.

Now I’m teaching my six-year-old niece, as well as grabbing friends who are “green to golf” and making monsters out of them!

P.P: Great stuff Lauren. You’re the host of “Destination Golf,” which is widely recognized as the ultimate golf getaway program on television. You’ve giving viewers front row seats to some of the most iconic golf courses in the world, while taking us on some wild adventures along the way. What destinations were some of your favorites? And where would you like to visit in future episodes?

L.T: I wish I could take every viewer on the road with me. There’s so much that happens within the six days of taping an episode, and it poses quite the challenge when fitting it into a 30-minute show. 22 minutes if you take out commercials.

Ireland is one of my all-time favorites. You can’t beat the courses, and the overall history of golf over there is hypnotizing. The grass truly is greener and the people are fantastically friendly.

Looking towards the future, I’d love to take the show into more exotic international golf destinations. I’m not afraid to step outside of my comfort zone, and show even the most seasoned of travelers a few surprises.

P.P: With the Buckeye state hosting the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and Memorial Tournament at MuirfieldVillage, Northeast Ohio might be a great location for a future episode of “Destination Golf.” Golf Digest PGA Teacher of the Year Jimmy Hanlin and 2010 Big Break winner and LPGA pro Carling Coffing host an outrageously entertaining weekly golf show here that you’d absolutely love. I’m just saying.

L.T: You know it! Tell Jimmy and Carling to call me – I’m there.

P.P: Nice! Lauren, let’s get started with our “Front-9” quick pace of play Q&A.

P.P: You, Win McMurry, and Holly Sonders are at Mardi Gras, New Orleans. Who gets the most beads – and why?

L.T: Me, not because I would in any way “earn them” —  so get your mind out of the gutter. But I know how to pack when traveling. I’d be the “Mr. T” of the Big Easy.

P.P: What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven a car?

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L.T: 120 with me behind the wheel at a test track, 165 in a “Lambo” at a charity event. I suddenly have the urge to beat that number…

P.P: Are you superstitious?

L.T: Nope – just lucky, usually optimistic, and always thankful.

P.P: Who will win more majors in 2013, Tiger or Rory?

L.T: Tiger. Rory needs to get his confidence back up with the new equipment. He has many, many majors ahead of him, no doubt about it. I think it’s time now for Woods to show us some magic.

P.P: A nickname you have that most people don’t know about?

L.T: Oh man, that are not gross or teetering on the line of inappropriate? Aside from the usual “LT,” or “T3” (Top Ten Thompson) that Gary Williams likes to use, the rest are strictly for my close friends.

P.P: Holly Sonders and Kelly Tilghman are both accomplished golfers. Match play who would you bet on, Holly or Kelly?

L.T: This is a tough one! Holly is a force to be reckoned with, but Kelly is a sneaky kind of competitor. Sonders is going to kill me, but my money’s on KT.

P.P: I understand you can’t flex your left arm? What’s that all about?

L.T: How did you know about this? Wow… well, it’s true. I actually have guns or “a gun” per say from kickboxing and hot yoga, but if my life depended on it, I would not be able to flex my left arm. I’ve all but given up on this ever happening.

P.P: What’s your most memorable golf shot and where was it?

L.T: Two weeks ago at Windermere Country Club. A lot of ribbing goes on in our usual foursome, and I was two-strokes away from the lead. On the 16th, I tied up the score with a chip shot from 80 yards right into the cup. Trust me… that doesn’t happen all of the time. It was beautiful.

P.P: A lot of men love women who can kick “you know what.” How’d you get in to kickboxing?

L.T: Golf and yoga are things that I need in my life for mental reasons. Kickboxing is on the other side of the spectrum. I’m all of 5’4” and 115 pounds, but I can pack a punch on the bag. I started kickboxing a few years ago with my friend, Nicole. She’s on her way to becoming an accomplished attorney and needs to get out aggression every now and then. My job doesn’t exactly call for that, but hey – why not.

P.P: You did a super job this year as the on course celebrity interviewer at the Humana Challenge (in partnership with the Clinton Foundation). And I couldn’t help but notice how much the celebrities genuinely liked being interviewed by you. Can you share a story about an interview that’s been particularly memorable for you?

L.T: What a great event. I love being a part of it each year. When you get the touring professionals together with golf-nut celebs, and President Bill Clinton, it’s an occasion that really shines.

Interviews with Carson Daly, Dr. J, Morgan Freeman, and Craig T. Nelson always make for great TV, but Alice Cooper holds a special place in my heart.

In 2011, the hardcore “Rocker” overheard me talking about a charity function I was putting together for one of my niece’s friends who was just six-years old and battling leukemia. He came over to me and offered to send me something for the auction.

I scribbled my address down on a two-inch sheet of paper, sincerely believing there was no way he’d be able to keep track of it. One week later, a pink autographed guitar showed up in the mail.

Not only did he follow through, but he asked me off-camera this past year how she was doing. There is a big heart of gold behind that rough exterior. Love that man.

P.P: Great story Lauren, thanks. You also host “Top 10,” Golf Channel’s best and worst list about all things golf. What goes on behind the scenes in making an episode?

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L.T: There is a good amount of prep work involved in making one episode of “Top 10.” We have a great team of producers and p.a’s – they’re magicians at painting the picture in every show.

Of course we want the interviews and opinions of the top personalities in golf. Sometimes we’re able to snag those while they’re in studio at Golf Channel. Other times we send out a remote crew to catch them at an event or their home course.

Afterwards we shoot the in-studio “stand-ups” so I can walk you through our countdown. At that point, we basically have a show. After we piece it all together and lay down the voice-over tracks… Bam! We send that puppy to air.

P.P: I’m willing to bet just about everyone reading this has seen some of your bikini photographs. But not many people know how you got started modeling and how that path eventually lead you to Golf Channel. Tell us about it.

L.T: You know, it’s not exactly my cup-of-tea anymore, but I suppose many years down the road after gravity takes it toll, it will give me something to look back on… Ha! In all honesty, I have no regrets. It was something fun to do in college and turns out, it paid pretty well.

But it didn’t exactly offer the challenge that I was looking for. At this time I was a Nursing major at UCF, and also spending four hours a night in the library. I was on scholarship as well as the “Presidents List.” It was tough, and I was beginning to question my career path.

Right around that time, I also started to dabble in infomercials, car commercials and recording voice-over tracks for local companies and various websites. I loved the creativity involved in production. I also loved the fact that each day posed new challenges and but also fresh rewards. I became addicted to a job that never felt like “work.”

When Golf Channel came calling, it was a surprise. I was about to enter the world of local news with a top channel in the Orlando market. Knowing they would probably cringe at the thought of my swing, I took a very up-front and honest approach with the Golf Channel executives.

They knew my love for game, but I thought I’d show them as well. Luckily for me, they weren’t looking for a swing comparable to Annika’s. They were looking for passion that would translate well to the viewer. We all love golf, and I take great pride in delivering golf nuggets to other golf nuts, who also may not have the game to show for it.

I finished at UCF with a major in Marketing and Communications, and have endless respect for nurses and those in the medical field. I know the track they took to get there. But you can’t beat a life covering the greatest game known to man.

P.P: Interesting, thanks Lauren. What do you think you do best or like the most at Golf Channel?

L.T: The energy on “Morning Drive.” Being a part of that team is something I am extremely proud of. The show boasts the respect of hackers and Touring professionals alike. I would watch it every day even if I wasn’t part of the gang. Where else can you find a complete analysis of what’s going on in golf, and get to know the players and heavy hitters in the game on a personal level.

We’ve had “The King” in studio, met Paula Creamer’s dog, 2012 Masters Champion Bubba Watson took it on himself to surprise us on live TV with an up close and personal look at that green jacket. Legends of the game are friends of “Morning Drive.” That tells you something.

P.P: Hot topic now Lauren, in more ways than one. Let’s talk sex appeal. Like it or not, agree or not, you have it.

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And it’s encouraged and promoted seemingly more than ever. We see it with LPGA superstar Suzanne Pettersen modeling nude in Sports Illustrated, with Sandra Gal being voted “World’s Hottest Golfer,” and even with companies like Cobra Puma Golf which feature Blair O’Neal in new equipment ads that could just as easily pass for lingerie ads. Sex sells.

The problem is people sometimes wrongfully judge attractive women as “all looks no substance.” And sometimes even suggest attractive women attain positions because of “appearance and not merit.”

To the extent you’ve been exposed to these criticisms (or any criticism for that matter that arises merely from being a popular on-air celebrity) how do you deal with that?

L.T: I am very comfortable in my own skin. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel confident and sexy. There are boundaries however, and you have got to know your limits as a female in the male-dominated world of sports.

The critics are out there though, and would love to take shots at you while hidden behind the shield of their computer. There are so many wonderful things about social media and the internet as a whole, but it also really opens you up to a world of negatively.

You have two choices here. You can search your name and give the 10% that hate you a fast-pass to getting under your skin. Or you can ignore the skeptics and focus on the facts. My advice is this: know yourself and your role.

I know that it took me 12 years to get to where I am today. I struggled financially for a path that I knew would make me happiest in the long run. And I carried a schedule that many times meant missed birthdays, graduations, family vacations, and weddings. There are no sick days, no personal days. But now I’m represented by the top name in the industry, and I am forever grateful.

Everyone has the right to an opinion. If taking time out of their own schedule to blast someone they have never met makes them feel better, then by all means… go for it. An uneducated opinion is none of my business.

P.P: You say it how it is – love that. Thanks Lauren. OK, “Back-9” final group of rapid style Q&A. Here we go.

P.P: What’s the best advice you ever got from mom?

L.T: My mom always said to hold your head up and keep your shoulders back. The first bit has taken me far in life. She’s a smart woman.

P.P: Do you want to see long putters banned in 2016?

L.T: This is an extremely sensitive issue facing golf. I’d like to see the same rules projected across the Tours. But banning it for recreational golfers could in turn hurt the game. I don’t know if there is a perfect answer here. But the Tours should not be able to create their own rules. The USGA and R&A are golf’s governing bodies, and they need to be the ones to make the decision.

P.P: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen on a golf course?

L.T: You know, people seem to overestimate their level on privacy on the golf course. I have seen more men “relieve themselves” in the bushes than I can count on two hands. But hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do… that must be the icing on life’s cake. Whatever.

P.P: Favorite music you’re listening to lately?

L.T: I’m a big time fan of the Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band, Jay-Z, DMB, Gwen Stefani, Metallica… I’m a musical mutt.

P.P: Who’s in your dream golf foursome?

L.T: I change this answer in every interview just to have some fun with it. This time around let’s go with: Arnold Palmer because I love his stories, Bubba Watson because he’s one of my favorites on Tour, and Jenny McCarthy because I love her humor… I believe we’d be good friends.

P.P: What’s your favorite PGA Tour event?

L.T: Outside of the majors, it’s a toss-up between the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship because of the pressure and unpredictability of match play, and Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational, being that it is so close to my house. We like to get a big group together for Saturday and Sunday of that event.

P.P: What’s your favorite sport (besides golf) and favorite team?

L.T: My favorite team for years was the Orlando Magic… before Dwight Howard’s drama last season. Still love the Magic and try to catch Dwight every now and then when the Lakers are playing, but I’m not as dialed-in to the team as I have been in previous years. We just lost J.J. (Redick) too! So sad.

P.P: Who are some of your favorite fashion designers?

L.T: I like designs that are body conscious with a classic edge. Knowing your body is a must in women’s clothing. Being aware of what works gives you some serious ammo that you can really run with. I wear a lot of BCBG, Diane Von Furstenberg, Marciano, and Banana Republic. Now shoes… shoes are a problem. I’m in a love-hate relationship with Christian (Louboutins), Charles (David), Gianni (Bini), and Stuart (Weitzman).

P.P: Something that gives you the creeps or something you’re scared of?

L.T: I’ll admit it. I’m 30-years old and scared of the dark. Movies like Gothica and Paranormal Activity completely freak me out. I can deal with blood and guts all day long, but the visual of some creepy kid scaling the wall in a movie is something I can’t shake. Ask anyone in my road crew – there is a strict “no ghost story” policy.

P.P: And finally how the favorite club in your bag, and least favorite?

Lauren Thompson Golf Channel Morning Drive TheGreekGrind Pappas 43 a

L.T: My favorite shot in the bag is a sand wedge from 50 – 100 yards out. I can usually stick it to within a few feet in that scenario. Hybrids are my enemy. There seems to be a long-standing mental issue with those clubs. My drives are also pretty safe… so is my bunker work.

P.P: Has there been a significant event in your life you’ve had to endure and overcome that’s shaped you into the person you are today?

L.T: My mom is the strongest person I know. When my sister was four and I was just an infant, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and passed away two weeks before my first birthday. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for her.

She was a nurse at the time, but switched fields in order to have the same schedule as her daughters. Being a teacher allowed her to have the same hours and holidays as we would. She never dated for the fear that she would “inherit someone else’s headache” or expose my sister and I to strangers in the house. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that she began to date again.

She has set the ultimate example for her daughters for working hard, making sacrifices, and fighting through the tears. To this day, I have only seen her cry one time – that’s it, and it was tears of joy. She’s my rock.

P.P: Thanks for sharing that Lauren. There have been 16 different winners in the past 17 majors, and more first time winners are doing so early in their career, even as rookies. Is this a sign that parity on Tour is the norm rather than the exception?

L.T: It’s a sign of how strong and skilled Tour professionals are today overall. Tiger recently captured his 76th win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but as exciting as it was a few years ago watching Woods at the top of his game – taking home hardware nearly every week he was in the field, some fresh faces have since had the chance to emerge.

The Tour is just packed with hard-hitting talent. Talent that deserves to experience what it’s like to be in the winner’s circle. The only drawback per say, comes when making “Fantasy Picks” – the Charlie Beljans and Michael Thompsons of the world can throw you for a loop!

P.P: What’s been your most embarrassing on air or in studio moment as a Golf Channel sportscaster?

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L.T: Oh wow. So, so many. Let’s start with “GolfNow.” I have had countless wardrobe malfunctions on set, but that’s what you get when you’re thrown into beach volleyball, zip lining, and jumping off of rocks on a weekly basis. Thank goodness that one isn’t a live show.

“Morning Drive” simply because of the live show aspect welcomes a “goof” or two each and every day. Conducting a conversation while a producer is in your ear is a true talent that one never fully masters.

I’ve had a few “Morning Drive Mulligans” where I’ve been a bit too sleep deprived and completely tuned out Gary. He asked a question – an obvious deflection was the result. My ADD likes to make an appearance every now and then.

P.P: Haha. One of the last times we talked you told me you just wrapped up a marathon 17-hour photo shoot. Seriously, that’s absolutely crazy. How can that take so much time?

L.T: Photo shoots are what you make of them. I’m always game for trying something new with hopes of a great shot. What usually comes with that can of worms is a very long day.

For “GolfNow,” five long days are par for the course – pun intended. We usually set out for our first course around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., wrap there around 11 a.m., feed the crew, and then have three or four more stops before returning to the hotel around 10 p.m. or so – just in time to knock out some research, shower, and sleep.

I love my “road family” and the intensity of the schedule. We lean on each other to get through the long days… and keep ourselves well-caffeinated.

P.P: Who at Golf Channel would you say you have some of the best chemistry with?

L.T: I love working with Kelly Tilghman. There are so many layers to that woman. Put the two of us together with a good bottle of wine, and we can talk for hours. She’s been with Golf Channel since day one, with the stories to prove it.

Jerry Foltz and Todd Lewis are my boys – there is no better duo to grab a beer with while out on the road.

And Charlie Rymer is another of my favorites. Since I started back in January of 2009, Rymer has made me feel like part for the gang. If you’re looking for a good, funny follow on “Twitter,” Charlie’s your guy.

P.P: Last question Lauren. Golf Channel has some 17 shows and you’re in three of them. Obviously you’re doing things right. But where do you see yourself in another four years?

L.T: I can’t express how thankful I am not only to Golf Channel for bringing me aboard, but to the viewers for keeping me there. I’ve been in TV for a long time and worked with countless networks and producers. But I have never seen a group as family-oriented and cohesive as the individuals that make up Golf Channel.

I was blown away when they brought me on for “Top 10.” “GolfNow” was the show that allowed me to spread my wings and really give the viewers a feel for who I was as an individual. And now I’m part of “Morning Drive” – the fastest growing show on Golf Channel? Somebody pinch me.

When you first set out in television, you’re so worried about the image you’re projecting, and what other people think of you. It took me about ten years to let go of the pre-conceived ideas I had for myself, and just BE me. Flaws and all, there is no one “you-er” than you. Coming to grips with that concept will change your life.

As for the next four years? If it’s anything like the first four, I’m buckling up for one wild ride!

P.P: It’s a virtual certainty the talented Miss Thompson’s next four years will be bigger, brighter, and wilder than even her first four extraordinary years at Golf Channel. Thompson puts the “Go” in Golf Channel with her distinctively larger-than-life personality.  

She’s unique, a free spirit certainly. But also the first to depend on if you’re ever in trouble. Thompson’s unabashedly confident, and openly speaks her mind. But she’s also grounded with a perspective that only comes from life’s tough lessons learned, down to earth and genuinely grateful for every moment. 

Thompson’s a gifted old soul with an untamed heart, who lives like there’s no tomorrow. And quite frankly, you can’t help but admire that.

Dedicated to The Memory of my mom Z (October 1941 – February 2013)

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. bud powell

    May 4, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Go! Knights – from an MBA ’73

  2. spazo

    Jan 7, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    reply if you scrolled the article without reading.

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  12. Bill

    Sep 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    The best of Golf Channel…Lauren and Wynn are great…

  13. Billy

    Mar 16, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    No WWE questions?

    • Dan Williams

      Jun 14, 2016 at 8:31 am

      She was never in WWE you goof. She was in that crappy TNA company. You don’t bring that up to a respectable woman.

  14. Jim

    Mar 15, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Great interview…Lauren has always been entertaining and a pleasant to watch.

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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