VIDEO: Barkley’s swing drives him nuts |

VIDEO: Barkley’s swing drives him nuts

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

STATELINE – Much intrigue surrounded Charles Barkley on Friday as he played his first American Century Championship round of golf since working with swing guru Hank Haney during the spring.

Had Barkley finally eradicated that wretched herky-jerky swing that has fostered a gallery of sympathetic fans and caused the Basketball Hall of Famer to consider giving up the game?

After receiving several awards from city officials for his contributions to Angora Fire victims, Barkley attempted to start a new chapter in his golfing life.

It didn’t happen.

In fact, Barkley boiled over on the second hole with the frustration of not being able to duplicate the smooth swings he makes on the driving range and prior to his shots on the golf course.

Spectators were puzzled when Barkley paused on his downswing on the opening tee ball, causing a short shot that barely reached the fairway.

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“It’s tough to watch that,” said one spectator.

“Why is his practice swing normal and then he swings like that?” observed another fan.

Inside 100 yards, the NBA analyst for TNT usually puts a smooth swing on the ball. Barkley did so on the first hole, but his approach shot went over the green, and he was unable to get his chip close enough to make bogey.

Barkley tried to contain his temper on the second hole, beating his fist into his right butt cheek after a third successive poor shot left him well short of the green. When his next stroke didn’t go as planned, Barkley asked a camera man to move, then flung his trusty wedge 25 yards behind him.

On the par-5 third hole, Barkley missed a 15-foot uphill putt for bogey.

The double-bogeys kept coming, but Barkley softened his reactions to his poor play. He exchanged fist bumps with spectators and chatted with some familiar faces behind the ropes.

He picked on playing partner Ray Romano after the comedian missed a short par putt on the third hole.

“Ray is going to do the Haney Project next. You see how well it’s working for me,” Barkley said.

Even when Barkley cleared the ditch on the par-3 fifth hole with his tee shot, he couldn’t execute the shot to salvage a par or bogey. “I’m finally going to finish a hole.”

Not so fast.

Barkley chipped into the bunker and couldn’t get out of the sand on his ensuing three strokes. In frustration, he hit some additional sand on the green.

Finally, on the par-3 seventh hole, Barkley was able to get off the double-bogey train. After hitting left of the green, Barkley struck a weak chip shot that left him 25 feet above the hole. He nearly rolled in the slick putt and tapped in for his first positive moment of the round.

As the negative points piled up on the back nine, Barkley didn’t lose his sense of humor. While watching Ray Allen, Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway leave the 16th tee, Barkley yelled to Hardaway, “I say be like Mike, not dress like Mike.”

Hardaway and Jordan wore matching red polo shirts, tan slacks and white caps.

If there was any solace in equaling his worst opening-round (-30) in the modified Stableford format, Barkley didn’t finish in last place. He was six points ahead of his former punching bag, Kevin Nealon, and first-time Chuck Liddell.

“It was one of the worst days of my life,” Barkley told ESPN.

Romano believes Barkley will continue to play the sport that bedevils him.

“(Charles) has a passion for it, and his heart is 100 percent into it, and that’s all you want to hear,” Romano said.

Romano could be the next subject of the “The Haney Project.” The popular Golf Channel series has been renewed for next season.

“There is a little pressure because I know Hank takes it very seriously,” Romano said. “What a lot of people don’t know about me is I take (golf) real serious. When I play a round of golf, my score is a legit score.

“Hank can probably make me much better, but down the road if I don’t practice, I may fall back into my bad habits. If people see me, I don’t want them to think that Hank didn’t improve me, because I know he will. It’s going to be on me that I’m not going to represent well.”