Amanda Balionis is from Pennsylvania and lives in California, but when she spends next week working the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, it will feel like a homecoming.
“It’s just a reminder of being able to accomplish things that I really had only dreamed of,” she said of her job as a reporter for both CBS’ and Turner’s coverage.
“To be able to do it in this city, in this area, that I love so much, yeah, it’s really special. It’s awesome.”
Balionis started college at Kutztown in Pennsylvania, where she played Division II volleyball, knowing she was not good enough for Division I or to play professionally.
“It was always kind of the plan: ‘OK, let me get this out of my system and then transfer somewhere where I know I can pursue what I want to do in real life,’” she said.
That real-life pursuit was journalism, ideally through a college program that was near New York City but not in it, a notion she found intimidating at the time after spending her teenage years in Lancaster.
“Then someone brought up to me, ‘Why don’t you look at Hofstra?’” she said. “Their messaging really resonated, about networking and real-life experiences and going into the city and interning. I felt like it was a great happy medium for me that I could go into the city and learn and intern but still go back to a college campus and not feel so overwhelmed.
“So it felt like the perfect balance, and also at the time the Jets practice facility was at Hofstra and right across the street was the [Nassau] Coliseum, where the Islanders played. I felt like I was surrounded by sports . . . It was the best thing I could have ever done, I think.”
She graduated in 2008, and soon was succeeding Maggie Gray (now of WFAN) at MSG Networks when Gray left for Sports Illustrated. She started out on sideline reports for high school lacrosse games.
In the fall of 2009, MSG Varsity launched, affording Balionis a crash course in the business.
“It was unreal,” she said. “You could pitch whatever you wanted to do . . . There could not have been a better learning and breeding ground than MSG Varsity. It was unbelievable. That’s where you really learn if you love it or not.
“For some people that seems like work they don’t want to do. But I could edit my own features and I could literally be in there for days and not want to come out. I loved it so much. That was when I knew, OK, I might not make a lot of money in this business, but I’m going to be obsessed with what I’m doing.”
It was when living and working in the city that Balionis got to experience Bethpage Black for the first time.
“I have friends who love the game,” she said. “At that time, I did not love the game all that much. But it was a fun road trip for me to go take with them from the city.
“I remember thinking after I played Bethpage Black I was more tired after 18 holes there than I was after running a half-marathon. So that puts it into perspective for you just how many shots I was taking from not the fairway.”
She joined the PGA Tour as an in-house reporter in 2011, pointing her career in a new direction and improving her golf game, to a point. She now is playing more than ever.
“The funny thing about this game of ours is the more you play the more inconsistent you become,” she said. “I’m getting better. I have really bad days and I have really good days. If I can break 100, I am thrilled.”
Balionis said she is happy to serve as a post-round reporter and leave the on-course work to Dottie Pepper and Peter Kostis.
“That is the hardest job in sports, hands down, nobody can argue with it,” she said. “All you have to do is be a spectator and watch these golf shots, and for them to be able to tell me how close that ball landed to the pin when they’re 200 yards away, it’s the most incredible talent I’ve ever seen . . . I could never do that no matter how many years I tried to hone that skill.”
CBS regards her as a rising star and has used her on both college and pro football. She is happy about that but also cherishes what she has built on the golf beat.
“I love golf and I have spent a decade building great relationships with players and caddies and agents and just knowing the people and their stories and their backgrounds and watching their careers grow,” she said. “To have all of that knowledge, there’s no reason for me to ever want to leave this game. I feel so lucky to be here every single week.”