By: Caitlin Moyer
BLAINE, MN - When Amanda Balionis works on the sidelines for the NFL and college football, no one ever asks her where she played the sport. It’s different, she says, in golf.
“Golf is a weird sport like that where people kind of expect that if you cover it, you’re really competitive with it… I’m like, ‘I played volleyball in college, guys.’ But with golf, it’s that odd niche where people ask, ‘What’s your handicap?’ and I say, ‘I don’t have one. I can just go out and play 12 holes if I want to and have a really good time with my friends and family.’”
That’s not to say that the CBS sideline reporter doesn’t play the sport or can’t hold her own the course. Growing up in a family of self-described “golf addicts,” Balionis learned the fundamentals and started playing at a young age, but never played competitively. Instead she played volleyball in high school and in college at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, before she transferred to Hofstra University to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism.
She picked golf up again after graduating, just for fun. Then, she got a job with the PGA Tour.
“”After I started working for the Tour, I started to play a little bit more, but still just for fun and now I would say when we’re in golf season I rarely ever pick up a club… because you’re busy working, traveling, or resting at home,” she said.
However, on Wednesday evening during 3M Open Tournament Week, the course hosted “The Compass Challenge,” and Balionis picked up her clubs to participate in a 3-hole star-studded event for charity.
Two teams of four celebrities competed in a shamble format (that’s where each person tees off, the best drive is selected from the four and then from there, each player plays his or her own ball).
Balionis joined Emmy Award-winning actor Josh Duhamel, former Minnesota Twins catcher and first baseman Joe Mauer, and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to compete against New York Giants tight end Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, sports analyst and former basketball player Charles Barkley and Hall-of-Fame golfer Annika Sorenstam, raising $75,000 for VEAP, one of Minnesota’s largest food pantries and $50,000 for the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Balionis confided that when she received a text from Rudolph about the event, she assumed it was a one-hole shootout, perhaps a closest-to-the-pin contest for charity.
“I don’t know why that was in my head, but when he said ‘challenge right after the ProAm,’ I thought ‘Oh, okay it’s one of those one-hole things, so if I embarrass myself on one shot, we’re good.’ And then I get the email and I see it’s 3 holes, mic'd up, Annika Sorenstam is going to be there….I’m thinking ‘Oh no, I haven’t picked up a club in months. Should I really be teeing it up with some of the best players and these massive celebrities? I don’t belong here.’ But then I had to remind myself that no one is here thinking I’m an LPGA player. And, if they are, I will educate them very quickly,” she said with a laugh. “I always tell people you don’t have to be a good golfer to just get out there and enjoy it. So, we’re just out here to have a good time and raise money for charity.”
Balionis celebrates a great shot during the 3M Open Compass Challenge on Wednesday, July 21st.
But, while she’s not a pro when it comes to playing golf, she’s the consummate professional when it comes to her job as a sideline reporter. Watch any of her interviews and her incredible knowledge, elite reporting skills and love for what she does is abundantly clear.
That’s because storytelling has always been a passion for her.
“Writing was something that I was really good at in school and I enjoyed it. My mom just gave my fiance and me this really old dresser and inside of it were my yearbooks and all of these books I had written in first grade. There were about 20 of them. I called her and asked, “Is this normal?’ She said ‘No. There was one day that kids did it in school and you just never stopped doing it.’”
So, in college, Balionis decided to pursue a degree in journalism, but with the digital landscape changing rapidly, she decided to focus on the broadcast side.
“I tried out radio and I kind of liked it but I really didn’t like the lack of connection. And then I tried out doing stuff on camera and it just came more naturally to me. I could just be myself and I felt like I could speak the same way that I could write and present stories. It felt like a deeper dive into storytelling,” she explained.
“Then I interned for CBS2, the local CBS station in New York, which is still the building I go to when we do the network specials, which is crazy, but that was my first time ever being in a broadcast studio and I was obsessed. I just loved everything about the way TV works. I could sit in a truck forever and watch the directors, the producers, the graphics. It’s the buzz of it all. It’s the same thing I love about sports, too. It’s that adrenaline and being in something live. I thought that if I can sit there and be in edit for 12 hours and not be bored, this is probably the thing I should be doing, so that’s kind of how I figured it out,” she said.
While Balionis has now come full circle from her days as an intern at CBS to have a job she clearly loves at the network, it hasn’t always been easy.
She has had to work hard and overcome several obstacles to reach this point. At one point, she says, she was really struggling.
“I was at my wit’s end with everything. My work was not going the way I wanted it to go; it was a pretty toxic environment. I was in a horrible, toxic relationship. I had just moved from New York City to another city and I wasn’t adjusting well to the new place. There were a lot of things going on in my life where I just felt like I was constantly hitting a wall. At some point I realized that none of these things were going to change until I realized what’s going on with me and how I can change. I had no coping skills. I would just get frustrated and kind of victimize myself,” she confided.
That’s when she turned to yoga.
“My yoga classes were the only place that I felt happy and the only place I felt at peace. I thought, ‘Okay, there’s something here. Keep doing this.’”
She loved her practice so much that she decided to get her 200-hour yoga teacher certification. Committing to training meant using her paid time off from work to attend the monthly workshops,
which were held for entire weekends at a time, but she says, it was well worth it in the end.
“Yoga really taught me these tools for life that I had never had before. I’d always heard the phrase, ‘You can choose to be happy’ but I didn’t believe that. I thought, ‘You can’t choose happiness-what if you wake up and this horrible thing happens today?’ But then I realized it’s all really just a matter of perspective and boundaries. It’s learning that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can always control how you react. That was verbiage and life skills that I didn’t have in my toolbox at the time,” she explained.
Balionis’ coping skills were put to the test during the pandemic, just like everyone else, and she leaned on her yoga practice to get her through.
And, while they may seem like two very different things, there are skills she possesses that translate from her day job in live television to teaching yoga classes.
“Ultimately, you have to just trust yourself. Pay attention to the people in front of you. Because so often, a student or player will tell you exactly what they need and exactly what they want to talk about, but you have to be willing to pay attention. So letting go of that control, the structure of the class or the exact interview questions and being like, ‘You tell me where you want to go with this and that’s where we’ll go’.... That’s when you’re going to get your best answers and when you’re going to have your best classes,” she says.
Click Here to see Amanda Balionis's interview with the 2021 3M Open Champion, Cameron Champ.
These days, Balionis feels much more grounded and confident. She’s got a job she loves and is planning her wedding to fiance Bryn Renner, which will take place next March in San Diego. She’s a bubbly burst of energy, and comes across as enthusiastic, happy and ready for whatever life throws at her--even a three-hole golf challenge she thought was going to only be one shot.
“I think it was me kind of hitting a low in my life that pushed me into yoga and that helped me come out on the other end knowing who I was, knowing who I wanted to be and kind of accepting that I might never get the dream job I wanted, I might never get all of these things, but I’m going to be okay because I’m okay with who I am now. That ended up pushing me to San Diego and a marketing job for Callaway, which I thought was kind of the end of my broadcasting career, but ended up kind of coming full circle to CBS calling and offering me a job.”
“Would that have all happened without yoga and me digging deep into myself? Maybe. But I’m hard-pressed to say that any of that would’ve happened until I put the work into myself and was ready for it.” The 3M Open would like to thank Belionis, Duhamel, Mauer, Fitzgerald, Rudolph, Thielen, Barkley and Sorenstam for participating in the Compass Challenge and helping raise money for our local charities. We appreciate the time and effort they put in to make the event a success and look forward to more opportunities to continue to make a difference together in the future.