Charles Barkley Claims His Golf Is Better, and You Can Bet on It

By RANDY YOUNGMAN

Want to win an easy $1,500 golf bet on Charles Barkley?

Seriously.

Sir Charles “guarantees” this one.

Of course, if you’ve been following Barkley’s predictions as a TNT commentator during the NBA playoffs, his guarantees have been about as reliable as Nostradamus predicting the end of the world.

This, however, is different, Barkley insists.

As usual, Barkley is the longest of the longshots in the field to win the annual American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, which will be contested July 9-11 on the breathtaking south shore of Lake Tahoe near the Nevada-California border.

His odds are 7,500 to 1, according to one South Shore sportsbook, which calculated the odds for each participant among the 86 celebs currently entered.

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is the favorite at 3-2, followed by former tennis star Mardy Fish at 2-1, former Oakland A’s pitcher Mark Mulder at 4-1 and former LPGA superstar Annika Sorenstam at 8-1.

Let’s just say I think that sports book is being kind to Barkley, because he likely has a better chance of being hit by lightning (15,300 to 1) than winning a golf tournament when his partner isn’t Phil Mickelson. (Yes, that’s a reference to Phil and Charles teaming up to beat Steph Curry and Peyton Manning, 4 and 3, in “The Match, Part III” last November in an alternate-shot competition at Stone Canyon outside Tucson.)

But what the world discovered during that nationally televised match is that Barkley’s golf game isn’t as dreadful as it has been over the past two decades. If you’re a golfer or golf fan who has watched any of NBC’s coverage of the American Century at Edgewood in recent years, you have probably cringed upon seeing Barkley’s pronounced hitch in his swing, usually leading to a hot grounder or shank to the right. (As former CBS golf analyst Gary McCord once quipped: “At impact, Barkley looks like he’s trying to kill a cockroach.”)

His swing got so bad that Barkley has even tried swinging with one hand on the club and with his eyes closed.

But that was the old Barkley. The new Barkley gave this description of his progress during a recent Zoom call with golf media promoting his annual appearance at the American Century: “Listen, I’m excited. I’m playing really, really well. I’ve had a lot of improvement in the last couple of years (at Edgewood).

“I shouldn’t say well—better, the last couple of years. And my teacher, Stan Utley . . . we’ve come a long way. And I can’t wait to get there and show it off.”

For the record, Barkley has finished last six times and next-to-last 13 times during his 25 appearances in the American Century at Edgewood. A year ago, he actually birdied the 18th hole at Edgewood on the final day to jump out of last, ahead of Eddie George.

“To say I’ve been struggling on the golf course is the biggest frickin’ understatement in the history of civilization,” Barkley said. “You know, I just want to play and have fun. Listen, it hasn’t been fun for me for 25 years to play golf.”

But now that Utley has gotten into Barkley’s head—and stopped all of the other voices—he says has been hitting “a bunch of good shots. I feel really good, really good about where I am.”

How did Utley succeed where so many others had failed in their instruction?

“I told Stan that I’ve worked with everybody in the world,” Barkley recalled. “He said, ‘Well, then one more’s not going to hurt.’ ”

One particular thing that Utley said to Barkley led to his breakthrough.

“He said, ‘When you stand over the ball, how many people are talking to you?’” Barkley recalled. “I said, ‘What? That’s a great question. I never been asked that before.’ And in fairness, I probably had 10 teachers (over the years), so I had 10 different people talking to me at the same time.

“He said, ‘Let’s just work on one thought. Don’t work on anything else. Forget what this guy said, what that guy said.’ And after about three hours of hitting balls, I was like, ‘Wow.’ And then the next day, he said, ‘Let’s think about another thing today.’ So he just calmed my brain down.”

The direct result was more consistent ball-striking and less hitching in his swing. Suddenly, the game was fun again—like it had been when he started playing golf late in his NBA career.

This will probably shock many of you, but Barkley claims that “at one point, I was like a single-digit handicap. And I broke 80. I was going to shoot between 79 and 85 every time I played golf.”

A look at Barkley’s scores at Edgewood during the early years of the American Century confirm the early state of his game: 84 and 89 in 1993, 89 and 82 in 1995.

“And then I did the stupidest thing ever,” Barkley recalled. “I started taking lessons. I said I wanted to get better. I should have been happy shooting (those scores), because I had fun. But I wanted to get better.

“And the next thing I know, I got 10 voices in my head standing over a golf ball. And I went from breaking 80 to not breaking 100. It was really like that for 25 years.”

Those days are now in the past, Barkley fervently hopes, which is why he is looking forward to the 2021 American Century. He is so confident, his eyes lit up when he heard the sports books in Lake Tahoe—Harvey’s, Harrah’s, MontBleu and Hard Rock at South Shore—are offering a proposition bet on the chances of Barkley finishing in the top 70 on the leaderboard.

If you bet $100 on Barkley, you win $1,500 if he finishes in the top 70. That means he has to beat only about 15 players in the field.

“Are you serious?” Barkley said, hearing about that prop bet for the first time.

“You need to let me know what casino that is, because I want some of that,” he said, laughing loudly. “It’s 80 people in the tournament?”

There were about 80 in the field then—and 86 as of last week.

“Listen, man, I’m going to finish in the top 70,” he declared. “You need to put more than $100 on me.”

Then Barkley retrieved his famous “Guarantee” button that he pushes on the air when he makes a prediction on TNT.

Insert sound effects: “GUAR—AN—TEED! WOO!”

“You know what?” Barkley said excitedly. “I cannot wait now. I’m looking forward to Lake Tahoe. I cannot wait!”

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