Charles Barkley Balking: The NBA Legend's Unusually Entertaining Golf Game

John McCloryAnalyst IJuly 12, 2008

Charles Barkley is making a strong case for being the most entertaining athlete of all time.

He's given the sports world on-the-court, off-the-court antics, mixed with an electric chemistry alongside the NBA on TNT team, topped off with the occasional chuckle provided by those "Fave 5" commercials.

Sir Charles has spawned the ultimate sports ego—superior athletic prowess (well, 50 lbs. ago), combined with a rare ability to connect with the public long after his prime.

Oh, and supposedly the NBA legend has a political campaign in the works, despite past media controversy and gambling debts that make John Daly look cheap.

But unlike most athletes, who maintain the ability to translate their skills from sport to sport (Dallas Cowboy's quarterback Tony Romo is a two-handicapper, for instance), Barkley is a Freddy Krueger nightmare on the links

This is relevant because Barkley was recently hacking it up and (hopefully, but not likely) avoiding disaster at the 19th annual American Century Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Articulating Barkley's swing to someone who hasn't visually experienced it before is nearly impossible. The inexplicable three-second hesitation at the top of his takeaway gives the gallery just enough time to shake their heads in disgust—or laugh hysterically—before Barkley's Titleist presumably zips into a heavily-wooded area.

You know that horribly repetitive dream where you're running from some entity and no matter how furiously you sprint it does no good?

That's Barkley's swing. The bizarre pause at the top mocks him—and golfers everywhere—as if to say, "There's nothing you can do, Charles. I always win."

This piece was originally intended to examine the mental aspect of the game, until it became apparent that the entire article could revolve around Barkley's golf course woes.

The same woes he currently experiences are shared by golfers all over the world. The difference is that most of those golfers aren't world-class athletes and are accustomed to much lower expectations from their peers.

Listen to the crowd's brief reaction in the above link. It's beyond embarrassing and way past humiliating to generate a response like that with one swing of a five-iron.

Do these cruel spectators think Barkley is doing it on purpose? He's an entertaining dude who frequently basks in the spotlight—so this is all for show, right?

Barkley suffers from a form of the yips, most commonly found in golfers who have played for more than 25 years. Nearly half of all serious golfers have suffered from the yips at one point or another, whether it be putting- or driving-related. An invisible detonator is planted inside the brain and proceeds to unleash its fury on the first tee or putting green, for instance.

It's mental, not physical.

Barkley has no problem stepping back from the ball and taking a few practice swings with a fluid motion. He's even shown he can hit wedge shots on the driving range with complete ease. But when tee-time rolls around, it's as if Barkley has a violent brain aneurysm, and that picture-perfect swing is forever lost in time.

Is it just good, old-fashioned nerves getting the best of Chuck? Maybe. But that doesn't begin to explain his brutally awkward backswing, which has been known to cause severe twitching amongst fellow athlete linksmen. "I've never seen a guy hit so many bad shots," said Barkley friend and needler Michael Jordan in a New York Times piece.

Tiger Woods and the late Payne Stewart have tried to lend a helping hand towards Barkley's anguish, all to no avail. Both PGA Tour legends were perplexed, and unable to repair what once was a solid golf game. Tiger goes so far as to perform a dead-on imitation of the swing from hell

The ironic twist in all this is that Barkley used to boast a spotless golf game, with a poetry-in-motion swing to go with it. He used to be amongst the MJs and Romos when it came to tackling the links, approximately somewhere in the four to five-handicap range, although most golfers tend to lie about that stuff.

But it all went haywire when he decided a brushup lesson was in order.

Cue Jaws music and bloodcurdling scream.

The instructor (who should consider now a good time to run and hide) advised Barkley to pause at the top of his back-swing in order to develop balance and rhythm. Apparently the wisdom sunk in, because the habit has been unbreakable since.

Mark it down as the most detrimental advice ever given just shy of "Hey Adam, take a bite of this forbidden apple," and, "Hey Britney, you should totally marry that K-Fed guy with no bank account or prospects."

With no hope or relief in sight, Barkley continues to be a good sport about his unexplained mental blockage, although he temporarily retired his golf equipment in 2006. Still, he frequently jokes with those who mock his visually frustrating game and unorthodox swing.

Shockingly, the American Century Golf Championship's first round standings featured Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler in dead last, not the presumed Barkley. The following conclusions can be drawn from this news:

1.) Barkley's game is coming around and there's light at the end of the tunnel.


2.) Cutler must be really, really bad and should stick to the gridiron.

But in the end, isn't Barkley's game just another form of entertainment for his mass audience?

Fans love Sir Charles in nearly every hat he wears—whether he's the Round Mound of Rebound, complete with 12,546 career boards, the ferocious beast tossing hecklers through plate glass windows, or the jaw-dropping political loud-mouth.

There's always been a human aspect to his game and lifestyle—a meat and potatoes, PB & J-type guy. We eat it up and love every minute of it.

The human element comes like a punch in the face upon studying the five seconds of torture he calls a golf swing.

Take it back...

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Okay, now follow through...


Now that's entertainment.