A chat with golf hottie Blair O’Neal

Blair O’Neal is used to turning heads. The 27-year old hottie does so all the time during her work as a model (cruise on over to www.blairgolf.com to check out more of her gorgeous body of work), and is doing the same this spring as a contestant on “Big Break Prince Edward Island,” the 11th installment of the Golf Channel’s elimination-style reality show. An avid golfer since the age of 11, the blonde bombshell was a standout at Arizona State University where she won two NCAA long-drive contests, and has since played on a number of professional tours. She’s also a perennial contender in every “World’s Hottest Female Athlete” competition known to man. Before she sets her sights on the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier and getting her LPGA Tour card later this year, Blair chatted with us over the phone about balancing her two careers, doing her best to keep the show’s results a secret, and the most nerve-wracking three-foot putt of her life.

Note: “Big Break Prince Edward Island” is currently three episodes into an 11-episode season. For more on the show, visit www.thegolfchannel.com.

The Scores Report: So tell me, how is it that you ended up on the Big Break?

Blair O’Neal: (Laughs) Well, it’s kind of a funny story. Basically, about three years ago I got a call from the Golf Channel that they were having a casting call out in L.A. I live in Arizona, so I drove out to California with a friend and went to the golf course and did the interview, and at the casting they have you hit different golf shots. So I went through the process and I got a call that I was picked to be a semifinalist for the show at that time. So they flew about 20 of us out to Florida, and I played golf and met everyone at the Golf Channel, and then I came back home and got a call saying that I wasn’t picked for the show. So I was really disappointed, and that was that, and then this summer I got a call from Paul Schlegel, who started “Big Break,” and he just said that they had been casting for a new “Big Break” and they wanted to know if I would be available and if I would want to be on the show, and I said ‘of course.’

TSR: How would you describe the show to someone who hasn’t seen it before? Is it “Survivor” for golfers?

O’Neal: Yeah, basically. It’s a reality golf show, but it’s based on challenges that are all about hitting different types of golf shots. It’s kind of the same as other reality shows – you’ve got 12 people and they’re all kind of fighting for the same prize, and one person gets kicked off every episode.

TSR: In the first episode, the very first challenge was to make a three-foot putt, and any contestant who missed went immediately to the elimination challenge. What was going through your head when you heard that?

O’Neal

O’Neal: (Laughs) That first challenge was so nerve-wracking. First off, we didn’t know what our challenge was going to be. And then you’re all by yourself, it’s so quiet, and you’re walking up that fairway reading these signs. When you finally get to where you can see the green, there’s so many people and it feels like there’s 30 cameras on you, and you’re mic-ed, and you know that the show has started now and you have this putt to make. The pressure is just crazy. Your hands are shaking and you can hear your heart beating, and it was a very, very intense feeling.

TSR: So after you made the putt, you nailed the next challenge as well, which meant you got to move onto the next episode. And then in the second episode, you had a little bit of trouble with that draw/fade pole they placed right in front of the tee box. What was that challenge like for you?

O’Neal: That challenge was tough actually. Watching it on TV doesn’t do it justice, because that wall feels like it’s right in front of you and it’s just huge. So when you’re standing up there with the wall in front of you and all the cameras on you, what should be just a typical, easy golf shot – just a draw or a fade – is actually really tough.

TSR: You are something of a unique case in that you’ve spent time both as a professional golfer and as a professional model. Could you describe what that dynamic has been like for you and how you manage to balance these two very different careers?

O’Neal: Well I grew up playing golf, and my goal when I was younger was to play professional golf. So I played in college at ASU, and after I graduated I turned professional and played all over Asia and all over the U.S. After college was also the time when I started modeling and began to realize that I could make some decent money modeling. So basically I did it to support my golfing and to have another income to help pay for all my travel fees and entry fees – and it was also something that I really enjoyed doing. But the last couple of years I had stopped competing on tour in order to pursue more of the modeling and see where I could go with that, and now this year I’m definitely fully focused on my golf career and getting my LPGA Tour card and going to Q school. I think it is a unique situation that I can do both. I want to do as much as I can, but my passion is definitely golf.

TSR: Did you think your modeling experience helped you out on the show in that you weren’t too camera-shy having had that experience?

O’Neal

O’Neal: I think it probably did help me. In modeling, you have the cameras on you all the time and in a sense you have to perform by giving the photographer or the client the look they are expecting. It’s definitely the same sort of thing in golf when all eyes are on you in a tournament and you have to perform. See the thing is, I love competing and I love golfing and people coming out to watch. It’s exciting and fun when people are watching you perform. It adds a little extra pressure, and I like that.

TSR: Did you ever feel as though any of the other contestants held any resentment toward you because you were a model, or perhaps that they were underestimating you?

O’Neal: I think definitely in the beginning when I first got there some of the players who I hadn’t played golf with before heard, ‘Oh, she’s a model,’ and maybe didn’t think I was as serious, and didn’t know how my game was. Some of them probably did underestimate me. In last week’s show, I won the challenge, and Brenda says ‘Oh, she’s not just a pretty face.’ But I think as episodes go on people see that I can perform and that I do have a good golf game, and that sort of speaks for itself.

Author’s note: Our interview is briefly interrupted by the sound of barking dogs coming from Blair’s end of the conversation.

O’Neal: Hold on. (Long pause) Sorry about that. I have three dogs – a lab, a yorkie and a dachshund. They’re barking because somebody came to the door. They all started freaking out. Sorry, I wasn’t expecting that.

TSR: What was the dynamic like among all the contestants? Where there any feuds between people, anybody that you didn’t particularly care for?

O’Neal

O’Neal: I think it was interesting with our show because there were so many characters and so many personalities, but I can’t say there was anybody I disliked. I actually made some friends during the show that I still talk to. Sometimes we’ll text during the show.

TSR: Who in particular have you stayed in touch with?

O’Neal: I talk to Kim, of course, because she and I grew up together. I talk to Brian, Robert, Nicole and Derek.

TSR: Did the contestants spend a lot of time hanging out while the show wasn’t shooting?

O’Neal: Well the thing is, we don’t really have a lot of time when we’re not on the golf course. You wake up really early, go to breakfast, then you’re out on the golf course all day long because the challenges take a long time to set up. Then you eat and you do hours of interviews, so sometimes you don’t even get back to your room until midnight or 12:30 and then you’ve got to get up early the next day and do it again, so they keep you busy.

TSR: Now the show was shot back in September, and it’s only just started airing, so what has it been like for you having to keep quiet about everything that happened on the show? Could you tell your family and close friends?

O’Neal: No, we weren’t even allowed to talk to anybody about it until they started airing stuff on the Golf Channel. You have to sign a contract saying that you’re not going to tell anybody about it, and that keeps it interesting, so that people don’t know what happened. That’s the tough part. And now everybody wants to know and tries to trick you and ask questions about how players did and I’m just like, ‘I’ve heard it all, that one’s not going to work. I can’t tell you anything.’ (Laughs) I get asked all the time, and it’s funny the way they’ll switch the questions around to see if I’ll slip up and give them any info.

TSR: All right, I won’t try to trick you then.

O’Neal: (Laughs) Thanks.

TSR: I know you won a couple of longest drive competitions in college when you were at Arizona State, how would you describe your game as a golfer?

O’Neal

O’Neal: Yeah, I won two long drive contests at NCAAs and that’s a big strength of my game – my distance and accuracy off the tee. I’ve always been a long hitter. But I also think putting is my strength. When my putting is on, it’s on. Sometimes when it’s on, I’ll make anything I look at. So right now I’m just really focusing on improving my short game and getting that going.

TSR: Do you have any golfers you look up to?

O’Neal: I would say definitely Tiger Woods. I think his focus and his mindset is just – I mean, obviously he’s an amazing golfer, but mentally he’s very, very focused and that’s what it takes to be a good golfer. It’s a very mental game.

TSR: Other than golf, are you a big sports fan?

O’Neal: Yes. I love going to games and watching sports in person, rather than just watching them on TV. I love going to basketball games, I really like going to hockey games. Those are probably my two most favorite sports to watch, other than golf of course. And of course here in Arizona, we have spring training which is always fun.

TSR: So tell me, without giving away any specifics obviously, what were the best and worst parts about being on the Big Break?

O’Neal: (Laughs) The best part I would think is experiencing that type of pressure. All of us have played a lot of tournament golf, and every one of us left there saying we had never experienced that type of pressure ever, in any golf tournament. When you have the cameras on you, and you’re playing for such a huge prize, and you literally have to hit the shot or you’re going home, that just adds a whole other element. I think for me playing under that kind of pressure and experiencing that kind of feeling was scary, but at the same time it was awesome and it was just such a cool thing. Because there’s no way you could practice that or prepare for that, really. As for the worst part about the show, that’s hard to say. I’d say the worst thing about it is probably watching somebody getting kicked off the show. Every single player really wants their big break, and to see somebody get eliminated is the tough part, especially because you spend so much time together and you get to know them. Nobody wants it to happen to them, but seeing it happen to somebody else, you just feel bad.

TSR: What has the experience been like for you watching the episodes on TV and seeing yourself on TV?

O’Neal

O’Neal: It’s been exciting. It happened so long ago that you kind of don’t remember everything. And it’s so interesting to see the interviews, because you didn’t always know what the other players where thinking when they’re out there. It’s definitely fun to watch.

TSR: So what’s next for you: modeling, golfing, or both?

O’Neal: What’s next is in two weeks I have the U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. I’ve played in a few Cactus Tour events. And then this summer I’ll just keep competing and working on my game and my main thing is going to LPGA Qualifying School at the end of September. I’ve been playing professional golf for a few years, but I haven’t been to Q School yet, so that’s definitely the next step: getting my tour card for next year. And of course the modeling. I’ll always do the modeling, too.

TSR: What do you think your chances are at the U.S. Open qualifier?

O’Neal: I think they’re good. I’m just working on my game and getting prepared.

TSR: Well best of luck to you, we’ll be pulling for you.

O’Neal: Thank you so much.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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