By John Steinbreder
While Jim Nantz and Sir Nick Faldo may be the voices of golf at CBS Sports, the most visible person on those broadcasts is a 36-year-old native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, named Amanda Balionis. She is the one who handles on-course interviews of the day’s most noteworthy golfers and conducts Q&As with newly crowned champions. And since taking on that role in 2017, she has demonstrated an engaging enthusiasm for her work as well as a deep knowledge of the game and the people who play it at the highest level.
Balionis is also quite good at something that is much more difficult than it looks, which is asking the right questions in the right ways so that often reticent and remote subjects reveal themselves on live television.
Think of Dustin Johnson tearing up during an interview with Balionis after he captured the 2020 Masters and spoke with uncharacteristic depth about how much that win meant to him. Or Tiger Woods expressing equal parts sadness and shock about the death of Kobe Bryant in an interview with her moments after the golfer had come off the course at last year’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and learned that his good friend had just died in a helicopter crash.
Then, there was Balionis probing Patrick Reed when controversy swirled around his taking embedded-ball relief during the third round of the 2021 Farmers. What she did in that interview – and did so well – was simply ask him about what happened on the course and why. She neither accused nor attacked Reed. She did not label him a cheat. She performed her duty with old-fashioned objectivity, letting Reed respond to her queries without imposing herself or her views on the subject.
It is little wonder, then, that in the past four years Balionis has become a favorite of television viewers as well as tour professionals.
Her bosses are pleased, too.
“Amanda has great credibility,” said Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports. “She knows the subject matter. She does her research. She thinks very well on her feet and handles difficult situations well.
“She is also very genuine and very likeable,” he added. “And people are responding to that.”
Balionis, an only child, was born on June 20, 1985, in the same Pittsburgh hospital where her late father, Tony, and mother, Dana, were delivered. Raised in the township of Upper St. Clair, which is located about eight miles from downtown, she grew up a rabid fan of the National Football League’s Steelers.
“I loved Three Rivers Stadium, and I loved going to games there,” she said. “It’s where I fell in love with football and also where I learned all my swear words.”
As a young girl, she found her way into golf as well. “My grandparents played,” she recalled. “Both my parents played as well. Sometimes, after my dad came home from work, I’d go to the course with him. We would putt on the practice green together and ride around some of the holes in a cart. Naturally, I started playing a little bit myself.”
Balionis competed in junior golf events but eventually gravitated to volleyball. She played for Manheim Township High School (also Jim Furyk’s alma mater) in Lancaster County, where her parents had moved to live in a golf community when she was in the fourth grade. As much as she liked the royal and ancient game, Balionis preferred the energy and action of volleyball and went on to play that sport at Kutztown University, a Division II school in Pennsylvania.
But then in the spring of her sophomore year, she transferred to Hofstra, a private, D-1 university located just east of New York City on Long Island. She tried to make that school’s volleyball team but quickly realized that she was, in her words, “in over my head, all 5-foot-7 of me.”
So, she started concentrating on academics – and following a longstanding desire to become a broadcast journalist.
One of the things that makes Amanda Balionis so proficient as a golf reporter is her appreciation for a good story and penchant for asking questions that elicit more than obligatory comments as to what club a player hit into a certain hole.
“I had always liked writing,” Balionis explained. “I liked asking questions, too. I also enjoyed listening to stories and then telling them. And I saw Hofstra as a place that could help me prepare for a career in that field.”
Balionis wrote for the school newspaper and worked as disc jockey for the college radio station, WRHU. She interned for the New York Jets, the NFL team that held their training camps on the Hofstra campus, as well as for the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League, who played out of nearby Nassau Coliseum. She also toiled on the morning show of a local CBS television station in Manhattan, getting up well before dawn to commute by train to the studio. And it was there she realized her intuitions were correct: She did indeed want to work in broadcast television.
“I loved script writing,” Balionis recalled. “I loved sitting in the control booth. And I really liked the idea of covering sports and being so close to New York City and all the opportunities that existed there.”
Balionis graduated from Hofstra in 2008. “It was the height of the recession, and initially, I could not find a job,” she recalled. “So, I moved back to Pennsylvania. I started contributing to a local paper in Lancaster. I wrote a weekly column on different sports subjects. I wrote obits and hard news stories, too. I talked to people whose houses had just burned down, interviewing them in really life-altering, difficult moments. And then I cried for days afterwards.
“I also worked as a hostess at a local pub called the Lancaster Dispensing Company,” she added. “I made drinks, too, and was absolutely the worst bartender. It was not an easy time, but I was very lucky to have family who could help me out.”
Balionis received some offers to work in news during that time. “But I turned them down because I really wanted to be in sports,” she said. “I liked the community aspect of a game like football and how rooting for a team or a player brought people together. As an only child going to Steelers games, I loved how it felt like being a part of a big family and the ways it connected, united and distracted us all.
“I was also fascinated by the psychology behind sports and the things that made athletes great and human at the same time.”
Eventually, Balionis found her way into that realm, first as a sideline reporter for Verizon Fios Channel 1, covering high school sports. From 2009-11, she began doing the same thing for MSG Network, providing color commentary for the network’s coverage of high school volleyball. Then, she got into golf, moving to Florida to take a job with the PGA Tour as a reporter and host for its website. Her primary duties entailed producing and reporting tournament highlights and events.
“I started to live and breathe golf once I took that job,” Balionis said. “I really threw myself into the sport.”
She did that so well that in 2016, officials at Callaway Golf hired her to produce digital content for the equipment maker. That change in jobs also required a change in venue, with Balionis relocating cross country to San Diego, California.
Shortly after she settled in that city’s Pacific Beach neighborhood, she took a call from producers at Turner Sports to help with their digital and on-air golf coverage. The next thing she knew, Balionis was conducting post-round interviews with players at that year’s PGA Championship, which Jimmy Walker captured on the Lower Course of Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
The following February, she performed similar duties for CBS Sports at the 2017 Genesis Open in Los Angeles. That went so well that the network asked her to work several other tournaments that season. Then in 2018, Balionis joined the golf team full-time, also working on occasion as a sideline reporter for college and professional football games that CBS carried. She also served as the network’s social media correspondent for the 2019 Super Bowl.
One of the things that makes Balionis so proficient as a golf reporter is her appreciation for a good story and penchant for asking questions that elicit more than obligatory comments as to what club a player hit into a certain hole.
It helps that tour professionals have also grown to know and like her through the years.
“We have developed a lot of familiarity with each other,” she said. “Many of those I see on tour today were rookies the same year I was a rookie. We grew up in this business together, and I have also gotten to know their caddies and managers along the way. Their wives, too.”
Those same golfers also trust her to be fair, even when she has to ask the tough questions.
“There is a way to handle those situations,” she explained. “I do not want to ambush anyone. I am not looking for a ‘gotcha’ moment. I want to find out what happened and why. And I truly believe that if you treat people with respect even as you are doing your job, you get honest and sometimes memorable answers.”
Balionis says one of the keys is giving players, whenever possible, a sense of what she is going to ask before she actually does so, so they are more prepared to respond. That’s what she did with Woods when she queried him about Bryant’s passing. Same with Reed and his embedded-ball imbroglio.
Now that golf has become the sport she covers most often, she is trying to become more of a golfer. Balionis tees it with her mother on occasion (her father passed away nearly three years ago) and also her fiancé, Bryn Renner, a former college and NFL quarterback who has been an assistant coach at Florida International University since 2017. For swing tips and the occasional lesson, Balionis often turns to her old CBS Sports colleague, noted swing doctor Peter Kostis.
“I am more of a fan golfer than anything else,” added Balionis, who splits her time between Miami, where Renner currently resides, and San Diego, where they expect to marry next spring. “I do not have a handicap yet, and I do not keep score.”
Quite understandably, golf and football are among her primary passions. But she is also into yoga, and good enough at that discipline to be a certified instructor. In addition, Balionis is very active in animal rights and a non-profit organization she founded called Puppies & Golf. That group supports animal shelters around the country as well as K9s for Warriors, an outfit that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to be service animals for military veterans battling PTSD.
Dogs have good reason to be fans of hers, too.
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