Amanda Balionis has morphed into a household name for golf fans. She first entered the golf space at PGATour.com and then moved on to gigs at Callaway and TNT. Now you’ll see her as a reporter for CBS Sports, conducting player interviews and reporting from the grounds at PGA Tour events (she also works football games).
Balionis recently joined GOLF’s Subpar Podcast to talk about breaking into the business, what she’s learned, memorable moments on the job and more. She also told co-hosts Drew Stoltz and Colt Knost about her biggest on-camera disaster, which she said happened in 2011 when she was covering her first Tour Championship.
Balionis was working for PGATour.com at the time and conducting live post-round interviews. She said if players were going to talk to the media after their rounds, she was usually one of the last stops, so she never expected to get many of the big names to swing by. But on this day she got at least two — Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
But she was ready. Still relatively new at the time, Balionis said she often over-prepared, so for the Tour Championship she had 30 index cards — one per player — filled front-to-back with useful nuggets she might want to discuss.
“You get two questions,” Balionis said. “What did I think was going to happen here? It’s not like a network special.”
After Johnson, 27 at the time, finished his round, he agreed to talk to Balionis. So she grabbed her index card.
“And I see on the index card it says third Presidents Cup, and I’m like OK. And this is what, 2011, so you do the math. But I trusted that handy dandy index card. And I said to Dustin, I looked down at it, and I asked him something about the season and then my second question was, ‘Well, you know you are about to go tee it up in your third Presidents Cup. What have you learned from those past events that’s going to prepare you moving forward?’ And in true Dustin form he looks at me and goes, ‘It’s my first.’ [Laughs]
“I was like, ‘Are you third in points?'” she continued. “I was just trying to figure out what I wrote. There’s something here (on the card). And he goes, ‘I don’t know.’ He looks at me and is just like, I don’t know who you are or where this is going, but I was like, ‘OK, thanks for the time.’ And he’s like ‘Yeah,’ and walks away.”
A minor misstep. But, Balionis said, “it gets worse.”
“I’m in full panic,” she said. “I’m sweating. I’m like, ‘I’m never going to recover. Dustin Johnson thinks I’m an idiot.’ I can’t get out of my own head. Then they say in my ear, ‘Hey, Phil is walking off the green, let’s see if he will talk to you.'”
Balionis had never talked to Mickelson and didn’t think he’d be game to chat, but Mickelson agreed.
“And I am not in the headspace to do this,” Balionis said. “And I look directly at the camera, and he doesn’t know me from anybody, and I look right at the camera and I’m like, ‘Thanks, Phil. Guys, your Phil.’ And he’s just like, no laugh, no anything. And he just stone-cold stared me down and was like this is never going to happen again. And then we did the interview and then I proceeded to have a massive meltdown in my car — and that was the last time I did index cards.”
Balionis can laugh about it now and does a good job poking fun of her blunder, but at the time it was eating her up.
“It was like two back-to-back hot-mess moments, and live, with two really high-profile players,” she said. “And we are such a traveling circus, everyone kind of remembers everything, so like I knew that was my first impression with those two guys and that was going to take me a long time to dig myself out of that hole and gain some credibility.”
“I’m sure there’s a tape of it somewhere,” she said, “but I hope it never resurfaces.”
You can check out Balionis’ complete Subpar interview below.