A chance invitation whilst playing in Europe has opened the door for Alison Whitaker to forge a flourishing career as a TV commentator.
My start in TV was purely by happenstance.
I’d spent a little bit of time in the box at the Ladies Masters when I played well one year but I was in China at the end of 2014 when the Ladies European Tour asked me to fill in for a few hours.
They actually wanted a European voice for the Sunday – which I understood completely – but they couldn’t find anyone so I got the call-up!
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was suffering from both glandular fever and vertigo. At the end of the three hours they said if I was going to stop playing because of the vertigo that they’d love to have me on board for the following year.
My golf swing was probably the best it had ever been at that point but with the illness and having that offer on the table it probably brought the timeline of transitioning out of the playing ranks forward a little bit.
The biggest challenge initially was having two conversations at once and just how hard that is. You have to listen not only to the other commentators but also the direction you’re getting in your ear from the producers about what else might be happening on course. It can be quite full-on at times.
In terms of preparation it is completely different depending on whether I’m on course or in the box. If I’m on course I’ll tailor my research around the three players I am going to be following the next day whereas in the box, to do the job well, you need to have two or three interesting facts on every player in the field.
If I’m on course I’ll try and head out and walk the course at around 7am, see where all the pin positions are so that I’ll have an understanding of what the putt is going to do even if I might be 20 metres away.
I’ll also go to the range a lot and watch what drills players are doing which helps you to paint the picture of their full day as well.
In the box, I keep quite a detailed spreadsheet on all the players so I’ll always have that with me on my laptop but I’m also known for plastering the walls with stats. It’s a redecorating process and it changes every day. Because while it’s great to do your research, if you can’t find it within 10 seconds there’s no point in having it.
A word we often use in commentary is discipline. I probably only use 5 per cent of the research that I do for every week and working out when to add that into the conversation and when to have some banter is really important.
It’s been such a steep learning curve and I’ve been extremely fortunate with the mentors I have had.
My two most influential mentors have been Kate Burton and Richard Kaufman. Kate could talk the bark off a tree and the people at home would be entertained while Richard’s work ethic is just incredible.
But no matter how much research you do you always have that sense that you’re walking into an exam that you haven’t studied for.
When it’s live TV, there’s always a slight sense that you’re in over your head.
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