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Charles Barkley says he's a new and improved golfer. Should we believe him this time?

November 22, 2020

Barkley says he's been practicing five hours a day for six months, and is ready for public scrutiny. "I have put the effort in, I put the work in, and I’m hoping I just can handle it under the pressure," he said

Mitchell Leff

Who could forget Charles Barkley’s brutal assessment of the quality of golf Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson displayed in the first rendition of “The Match” two years ago in Las Vegas?

“This is crappy golf. Y’all know that,” the NBA Hall of Famer-turned-broadcaster drawled with his typical honesty to a pay-per-view television audience. “I could beat these two guys today.”

Welp, give Barkley credit for stepping from behind the microphone onto the tee box to bring to the franchise his own brand of golf—which through the years has been chronicled to be uniquely, um … oh, heck … crappy. On Friday, the Round Mound of Sound (nee Rebound) teams with Mickelson in “Capital One’s The Match: Champions For Change” at Stone Canyon Golf Club in Oro Valley, Ariz. Their opposition in the modified alternate shot competition is the duo of Stephen Curry, NBA All-Star, and Peyton Manning, retired NFL great.

“Obviously, I’m a golfing degenerate,” Barkley said with a chuckle during a telephone interview with Golf Digest.

And, obviously, he has no problem putting his game, such as it is, on display. Barkley, 57, is a regular competitor at the American Century Celebrity Golf Challenge. In July, he finished second-to-last in the 70-man field, scoring minus-68 points in the modified Stableford scoring format. (Curry, by the way, ended up fourth with 56 points.)

“Honest to God, I don’t know why he’s subjecting himself to this,” said Gary McCord, who will serve as an on-course reporter for the telecast, which begins at 3 p.m. EST on TNT. “He’s gone from talking about the chaos to stepping on the tee and creating chaos. He’ll be the agent of chaos in this thing, and it’s going to be really, really interesting.”

So, why is he doing it? “They invited me, and I couldn’t turn it down,” Barkley replied. “I was really flattered that they asked me.”

Barkley, along with actor Samuel L. Jackson, was part of the broadcast team for the original 'The Match' at Shadow Creek in 2018.

Christian Petersen

McCord, who plans to join Barkley on Tuesday for a practice round at Stone Canyon, said Barkley exhibits an acceptable level of proficiency away from prying eyes and cameras. “I’ve played with Chuck, and he’s OK,” the former tour player said. “The swing goes up, and the swing goes down. There’s no stopping. But he gets under pressure, there’s anxiety, and that hits him, and he gets to hitching on the downswing. Everything changes.”

Similar stories abound of Barkley showing decent form at the annual TNT cast and crew party he hosts at a Topgolf facility at the end of each NBA season.

Barkley intends to be ready for this latest public challenge. He said he has been practicing resolutely for months, “even before I got invited to the match.

“I have put the effort in, I put the work in, and I’m hoping I just can handle it under the pressure,” he said. “Let me just say this: I’m not bragging about it, but nobody has worked harder than me to be better at golf. I have hit balls five hours a day for the last six months. I just really wanted to get better at golf.”

He credits former tour player/turned instructor Stan Utley with putting him on a path to enjoying the game again. “I met him at Tom Lehman’s golf tournament about two years ago, and he said, ‘Charles, can I work with you a little bit?’ I said, ‘Stan, I’ve done worked with every teacher in the land.’ And he says, ‘Well, one more won’t hurt.’ And let me tell you something, I have played better in the last year and a half than I played in the last 20 years. It’s fun for me to play again. It’s been amazing.”

Not all of Barkley's swings, like this one from the American Century Reno-Tahoe event in July, are polished.

Christian Petersen

While flattered, Utley said he can’t take too much credit, having worked with Sir Charles only a few times. “I gave him hope,” Utley said. “No one is ever really fixed. When you work on the wrong thing for 20 years, you can’t just flip a switch. Every player has these neurological patterns programmed into them, and you cannot get rid of a neurological pattern. The good news is you can build a new pattern. That doesn’t mean the old pattern goes away. But with a lot of work, you can override it.

“I gave him something to work on, which is basically throwing the club from the top of the backswing with his wrists. It took about 40 minutes, and he got it. But I can only say I helped him a little. When he’s not hitching, he hits it well. He’s a big man. He’s so strong and can hit it really long if he does it right.”

If he does it right.

Preternaturally good natured, Barkley takes his struggles—and the many barbs about his game—in stride. They’ve even come from his partner.

“I'm really appreciative of Charles Barkley, because Sir Charles is putting himself out there in front of the public in an area that he is not competent at all and taking all the hits,” Mickelson said. “I mean, that type of self-deprecation and ability to laugh at himself and put himself out there I have a lot of respect for. I'm honored to have him as my partner. I’m not overly optimistic about having him as my partner, but I do think we’re going to be able to come out on top. We’re going to find a way.”

More recently, he has been skewered in several match promos, and Manning said in one, “The only thing I can think about is, what will Charles not do?”

Well, there’s no telling. Barkley is sure of one thing, however.

“It’s definitely going to be fun,” he said. “I mean, as long as I don’t stink up the joint.”