Amanda Balionis will be front and center during the biggest live sporting event of the Memorial Day Weekend, serving as the on-course reporter for Turner Sports’ coverage of Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Charity.
The May 24 golf shootout will pit Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. With more than $10 million going to COVID-19 relief efforts, the Match will air across multiple Turner-owned properties including TNT, TBS, truTV, and HLN, and will be also featured on its digital properties such as Bleacher Report.
It’s a sequel to the $9 million, winner-take-all charity match won by Mickelson over Woods in 2018, which Turner also televised.
Balionis, who also serves a golf and NFL reporter for CBS Sports, spoke to Front Office Sports about the big event.
Answers and responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Front Office Sports: How do you feel knowing the sports world will be watching Sunday?
Amanda Balionis: Well, they won’t be watching me. I think they’re going to be watching the four icons – and I’ll be seeing it up close. But I’m certainly excited to be on the sidelines for it.
FOS: Let’s go back to the 2018 match. That was great TV, with Tiger and Phil going at it in the darkness and Phil finally winning on the fourth overtime hole.
AB: I think any time you can bring a novelty, or just a different way of watching golf, it’s a great thing. It’s one of the few sports where you can do something like this. You can have a full field. Or you can have two guys going head-to-head. Or you can have four guys playing in teams. And it’s all going to be interesting for different reasons.
I think it was really interesting the first time, because it had never been done before, especially with two guys at the level of Tiger and Phil. But I think what viewers were hoping for was a little bit more insight into the way these guys talk to one another and all that. I think Phil and Tiger acknowledged they didn’t really do that because they’re really competitive guys and they got laser-focused and wanted to win.
So I think that is what the viewer can expect more so this time around. Getting more of that guy trip, buddy-buddy, trash talk type of thing that we all like to do on the course. But to be able to see the best of all time do it, with mics on them, is going to be unprecedented. And really cool.
FOS: Do you prepare your questions in advance or let the play dictate your approach?
AB: I think it depends on the scenario. If it’s something that maybe happened off the course, or there’s some newsworthy story that we know we have to address, obviously that’s planned ahead of time. For me the best thing you can do is be reactionary to what’s been happening or what the player’s telling you. So I think it’s a mix of both. I’ve certainly been making some phone calls to people who are close to these players, trying to get some backstory, so I can be prepared for questions during and after the rounds. But I think in terms of post-round interviews, you try to be as reactionary as possible to make it as relevant to the tournament and that player as possible.
FOS: Will you ask Brady about playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Or will you keep it strictly golf?
AB: Yes, I think you have to do a little bit, right?…The stories are coming out now. He’s calling practices with some of these guys at 7:00 AM right now. One of the first things I wondered was is he calling them that early so he can go tee it up – and maybe get some golf lessons after that?
So I think for someone who’s as active as Tom, you have to ask about the balance between preparing for football right now and being in a whole new city with a whole new team. And also wanting to come out and bring your a-game in golf as well. So I think it’s relevant to the storyline for sure. So if I can ask some football questions in there, I certainly will.
FOS: These four guys have been ribbing each other pretty good. What do you think TV viewers will hear Sunday?
AB: I actually expect a lot more trash talking – which is going to be really one of the fun parts of this. Tiger kind of referenced it earlier. When Phil and Tiger did this a couple of years ago, they both clamped up because they both got so dialed in, it’s what they’re used to doing.
So I think they literally brought Peyton and Tom on as a means to keep them loose, and keep them talking, and trash talking, and keep it fun for everyone at home. I think they’ve probably been practicing their trash talking as much as they’ve been practicing their games. I’m excited about it.
FOS: So what’s your scouting report on their respective golf games?
AB: I don’t know if you saw the trash talking thing that Ernie Johnson hosted, Tom made the joke that Archie [Manning] called on Peyton’s behalf and had the team switched for him, which I thought was funny, but I don’t think that’s actually true.
What I’ve learned doing my prep work is that all four guys have actually played with each other a lot. They’re really comfortable on the golf course with one another. I wasn’t super-aware of that before this. Peyton has had a chance to play with Tiger a number of times. Peyton has also played with Phil a lot too. Vice versa for Tom and the other two guys as well. I think they’re all going to bring a different strength of their game.
I’ve been reading that Tom is really good with the putter, which I think will be good for Phil and Tom. I’ve seen Peyton play. I was there at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year. We know he’s a really good player. So I think he, and he and Tiger will probably ham and egg it pretty well.
FOS: Is golf better positioned than other sports to deal with the pandemic? We already have social distancing on the course, no?
AB: That’s kind of above my pay grade to say how [golf] is going to change. I’m not sure anyone really knows yet. But I think on a surface level, it certainly is. [Golf] seems naturally built for social distancing. That’s what we’re even seeing right now, even at the amateur level.
Really the only time I’ve been able to see my Mom during this pandemic, and feel OK about it, is when I met her on the golf course. We could socially distance and we could see each other. And so I think that’s a wonderful thing about this game, is that you can do it safely outside, stay six feet apart, take your own golf cart or walk, whatever it is. I know NASCAR is coming back too, and that’s pretty socially distanced as well. But it is one of the first sports that we can present in this way. Guys can compete and it can still be safe. What do I think it’s going to look like? I think it is probably one of those sports where if you don’t have fans, there’s a silver lining there. Maybe we can appreciate the nature and the beautiful backdrop that these golf courses serve a little bit more than when you have thousands of fans out there.
Will it be weird for the players? I think so. Fighting for your first victory down the stretch with an empty golf course, as opposed to feeling that pressure of having thousands of fans, yelling and watching you and all that stuff, it’s just going to be different. But I don’t think it’s going to lessen the quality of watching PGA Tour level or LPGA tour level golf.
I think we’re going to be able to appreciate it, but in different ways. Which I think is a little bit different than other sports and what they’re facing right now.
FOS: What does the next year look like Amanda Balionis? And where do you want to go in your career?
AB: Honestly, I’m just hoping that we can get back out there at some point when it’s safe and, and start reporting live, and bringing viewers, the golf that I think we all have been in desperate need of.
Phil talked to Dan Patrick. He made such a good point about how he had stepped away from his clubs for five weeks, which is the longest he’s ever stepped away from his clubs. And Dan asked him, ‘Is that a good thing?” Phil said yes because it reminds him of the desire and love he has for this game and what it brings to his life.
I felt like that was such a great analogy for the rest of us. We’ve all kind of had to take a step from sports. It’s such a great distraction that we use from the rest of the real world problems. And we just haven’t had that distraction. So, now more than ever, I’m excited just to get back out there and bring people sports and entertainment in the future. It’s a fickle competitive business. So I’m grateful for every day I can report on golf and report on football and just hope that I can continue to do that. Especially in times where people are really in need of some uplifting entertainment.
FOS: As a sports media reporter, can you ask Peyton for if he’s ever going to take the ‘Monday Night Football’ announcing job at ESPN?
AB: I’ll ask. But if he yells at me, I’m blaming it on you. So please be prepared.