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Up close and personal: Golf Channel’s Lauren Thompson
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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)