Excitement building | SierraSun.com

Excitement building

Blair O’Neal tees off at the annual American Century Championship media day.
J.P. Kelsey / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Blair O’Neal has worn many hats — golfer, model and television personality — and she has worn all of them well.

The 35-year-old O’Neal returns for her second year at the 28th annual American Century Championship July 11-16 at Edgewood Tahoe golf course.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” O’Neal told media members at the annual media day on June 6 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. “It was a lot to take in last year. It was an amazing week.”

She will be joined in the star-studded field by Kathryn Tappen, Lisa Cornwell and 24-year-old Paige Spiranac, who’s making her first ACC appearance.

O’Neal can play the game. She won two NCAA Long Drive Championships while at Arizona State and placed fourth at the 2003 Pac-10 championships. She has 300-yard distance off the tee, and considers it the strength of her game.

The 5-foot-9 blonde won three times on the Cactus Tour and has competed twice on the Symetra Tour. She got to the final stage of LPGA qualifying, but never quite played well enough to win her card though she played a few LPGA events on sponsor exemptions.

She took several years off early in her career, partly because of a broken foot, and that may have been the smartest move she ever made. Not only did she earn money to help finance her golf career, but it turned out she was pretty good at modeling, and it has certainly led to bigger and better things.

Her impressive resume includes three consecutive years in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition (2011 to 2013). She was also named one of the Hottest 50 Athletes (ever), also by SI. Golf Magazine also recognized her as one of The 18 Most Beautiful Women in Golf, and Golf Digest called her one of the “Hottest Golfers.”

O’Neal has done fashion shows, print ads, magazine covers, catalogs and commercial advertisements.

In 2010, she got a call from the Golf Channel to see about competing in the golf reality program called “Big Break.” Despite having little time to prepare, she was second in “Big Break: Prince Edward Island.” A year later, she appeared on a “Big Break: Dominican Republic,” and emerged the champion.

She got back on the Symetra Tour full time in 2012 and played through 2014 before starting to transition as a media member. She currently appears on “What’s In the Bag” and “School of Golf,” both Golf Channel programs.

“The ‘School of Golf’ has been good for me,” O’Neal said. “I get to do a lot of corporate outings. People always want golf tips. I’m better (now) giving instructions.

“I knew years ago that I wanted to transition to media. It has been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed being in front of the camera. The transition period was tough.”

O’Neal doesn’t think she ever reached her potential, but it’s clear she loves her life and the game of golf. And, it’s never easy to let something go that you love.

O’Neal is one of 10 golfers that has 30-1 odds entering the tournament, well behind co-favorites Tony Romo and defending champ Mark Mulder.

Spiranac is next at 40-1. Cornwell is at 100-1 and Tappen is at 2,000-1. Cornwell, Tappen and O’Neal all made their ACC debuts last year.

Spiranac is considered a rising star on the sports and entertainment landscape.

She promotes positivity among young people, and she also promotes fitness training on social media and golf websites. The San Diego State University standout, who has won a Cactus Tour event in Arizona, is using her social media expertise to bring attention to the problem of online bullying.

“Last December we were at the European Ladies Master, but we didn’t get paired up,” O’Neal said. “We’ve gone to a couple of the same celebrity tournaments. It is exciting to see another female added to the tournament. It should be fun to see how everything pans out.”

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