Anna Whiteley: ‘This job has changed my life really’

Golfing World presenter Anna Whiteley on how to conduct the perfect interview, the difference between the men's and ladies events, and that embarrassing incident with Justin Rose...

At some point in our lives, most of us have been forced to accept that we will never make it as a professional golfer.

The sad fact is, that unless you have an extraordinary amount of talent, the idea of being paid to play your favourite sport is an ill-advised fantasy that will never really come to fruition.

Just really, really liking the game isn’t quite enough unfortunately.

However, all is not lost. You don’t need to be able to make hitting a golf ball look like the most graceful and natural thing in the world to have a career in golf.

Enthusiastic, passionate and confident and at ease in front of the camera, Golfing World presenter Anna Whiteley freely confesses that she is still a way from getting her handicap down to single figures.

Her day-to-day life involves interviewing the best players on both the men’s and ladies tours while jetting off to the biggest tournaments in the world. Her Instagram account certainly makes her life look as awful as it sounds. We’re not jealous at all, honest.

But she didn’t become one of the top female presenters in the game by accident. It was her unwavering determination, flawless knowledge and had-working attitude that has made her the envy of basically any golf fan.

Her story proves that even if you’re fully aware that you won’t ever be a major winner, you can still make your mark on the golfing world.

Has golf always been a big part of your life?

My mum, dad and brother were all massive golfers when I was growing up. So I’ve always had that natural ability.

I was very lucky to have a head start on getting into the game but now there are more opportunities for girls to get into the sport now than there ever have been.

I often see all-female golf days happening at local clubs on Twitter and the R&A have taken huge strides with their Women in Golf charter. It will be interesting to see how that unravels.

I made a commitment to myself recently to really hone in on my golf and I have just become a member for the first time at the Centurion. I’m trying to get there any weekend I can, but it’s nowhere near as often as I would like.

I play off 18 and that kind of gets me round without too much embarrassment.

I think you can hit a bit of a wall with your game and get sick of being so inconsistent. I want to find my groove and I would love to get my handicap down to single figures, that is a big goal.

Have you worked at many of the women’s professional events?

A big part of our show is on the women’s game so I have been very lucky to go to all of the women’s majors.

They are always fun to go to, the women are so warm and welcoming and there are some great characters out on the tour. The level of play just gets better every year, the purses are improving and some of the venues are just phenomenal. There’s always a relaxed atmosphere so they are some of my favourite events to go to.

We do a feature where we walk a hole with a player during a practice round and even the biggest women in the game are happy to do that with us.

Do you have any favourite players?

I just love Charley Hull. She speaks from the heart, tells it like it is and isn’t afraid to be honest. She tells you exactly what she is thinking and feeling at that exact moment so you always get a really entertaining interview from her.

I’ve always been a big fan of watching Lydia Ko because she just has such an amazingly relaxed swing. I think most of us start trying to hit the ball too hard at some point, so I find if I think of her tempo it helps me. She is such a beautiful and natural player.

Have you ever felt star struck interviewing anyone?

Like any fan of the game, when Tiger first came back this year I couldn’t help but be slightly in awe of him. He has a power and a presence that nobody else has.

But in general, the best thing you can do as an interviewer is just treat the players like they are normal people who happen to be incredibly talented at swinging a club. You will get the best interviews when they are relaxed and that is only going to happen if you are relaxed as well.

How do you prepare for an interview?

When I first started I used to prepare 10 or 12 questions that I could always fall back on but as you get more experienced you start to realise it is all about letting the conversation flow naturally.

You have to have solid knowledge of what the player is talking about though. You need to be able to rely on your knowledge.

Have you had any awkward moments on camera?

There was one moment that was just the most embarrassing thing to happen to me ever.

Last year at the Irish Open we had an interview with Justin Rose up on balcony of the clubhouse.  It was pro-am day and there were about 50 people there all having lunch. The weather had been horrific and as I was walking up to the balcony with Justin I had no idea how slippery the floor would be. So I went flying and head over heels mid-conversation with him.

He just picked me up by the shoulders and asked me if I was ok. I think he was in just as much shock as I was! So I had no choice but to get up and carry on. If I wasn’t just about to do an interview with Justin Rose then I probably would have had an absolute breakdown. But I had to crack on and do this really reflective piece with him.

It was the kind of thing that you never really quite get over!

Was going to the Masters as amazing as it looks?

It is always just the most exciting event to go to. Everybody tells you how amazing Augusta National is but until you actually see it for yourself you can’t truly believe it. The level of perfection that they achieve there is just extraordinary. I was talking to a journalist who said it was his 32ndmasters and every year he goes out on the course and tries to find a weed but he never has.

Everyone from the patrons, to the officials, to the media to the players, is just so excited to be there. The atmosphere is fantastic.

Absolutely nobody, including the media, can take a phone on the course and there are no electronic scoreboards so it can be difficult to know where the players are. To interview you really just have to do them all outside the main clubhouse and just cross your fingers and hope that the player you’re waiting for will come along. But that’s part of what makes it so special and unique as no other event has those traditions.

It always gives you goosebumps when you see the caddies out there in their white overalls. It kind of feels like you have stepped back in time and the whole thing is so special.

What did you think to the news of the women’s amateur competition that will be hosted at Augusta National?

We were so excited when we heard that. It is exactly the kind of step that will help women’s golf get to the next level. I think it will encourage more girls to get into golf if they know they have the opportunity to play at a venue like Augusta National.

Did you enjoy presenting at the GolfSixes?

Putting some of the world’s best female golfers on the same stage as the men like that was fantastic and a long time coming I think.

It was the perfect way to shine a light on the talent and the fantastic characters in the women’s game. Having more mixed events would be an amazing.

Vernan Kay is such a massive golf fan. I think his main aim in life is to bring his handicap down. He’s really passionate about bringing it to a new and younger audience and making it more entertaining. Which is so important.

Do you think women are sometimes treated differently in golf?

I’ve had a really positive experience working in golf. I think whether it’s in a local clubhouse or in the professional game, everyone is very welcoming and encouraging towards women because we all recognise that there should be more in the game. So I’ve never faced any kind of negative feeling.

Everyone knows that for golf to move forward it needs to become more inclusive.

Do you like working with the Sky Sports Golf presenters?

I do the podcast with Henni Goya, who is brilliant fun to work with. She is really passionate about the women’s game so a hearty debate is never far away with her. Plus, she’s been there and done it all, she has a great insight into golf.

How was playing in the Ricoh at Kingsbarns last year?

It was amazing, I hadn’t really played any links golf before that experience. I was dreading the pothole bunkers and the rough and I knew the weather was going to be testing. It was next level, it kept going from bright sunshine to torrential rain. So every few minutes I was getting my umbrella out, taking my waterproofs on or off, adding layers and taking them away.

But it was great and I got to play with Brittany Lincicome who is such a nice person and she can hit the ball miles. She was amazing to watch, Kingsbarns is such a challenge and it makes you realise just how good the professionals are.

Did you always want to work in golf?

I’ve always had a huge passion for the sport. My degree is in Drama and Media and I did student TV. I left uni knowing that I wanted to get into sports broadcasting but I didn’t really know how I would get there.

So I started working as a runner and I did so much presenting work for zero pay, which is often how the industry goes. I also did a lot of corporate videos. I learnt that the more you say yes to things the more opportunities come your way and the more a career pathway starts to form.

I started doing some work for the Ladies European Tour about four or five years ago and then as soon as the job with Golfing World came up I had my heart set on it. I’m hugely grateful to have the opportunity and it has changed my life really. Hopefully this is a life-long career and it’s an amazing journey to be on.

I started with Golfing World in 2015 and I think once you start travelling and hit the road time just goes so quickly. You are always looking forward to the next event and kind of living in the future.

The nature of this job is that you never know where it is going to take you.

Which presenters do you admire?

It’s so nice to see Claire Balding and Gabby Logan at the front of the biggest sporting events in the world. Diana Dougherty kind of opened up the door for females to lead golf shows, which was fantastic for the likes of me.

Outside of sport I grew up watching T4 on a Saturday morning with Jameela Jamil. She has always been a great role model and is always sending empowering messages to young women on Instagram and Twitter.

Her campaign @i_weigh is all about saying that it’s not how much you weigh or what you look like that’s important but things like what you have achieved in life, what your goals are and the friendships you.

I think that message to young girls, especially now when you are swamped with images about the idea of what it is to look beautiful, is so important.

What is it about golf that you love so much?

I just have such fond memories and emotions when I think about golf. Playing a fourball with my mum, dad and brother is some of the only quality time that we really spend together. It’s five hours every couple of months when we can really catch up.

Golf teaches you patience and punctuality and that if you want to be good at something then you have to work for it. It doesn’t come easily like lots of things in life.

There’s just so much that you can learn about yourself just through playing a game.

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