Barkley the clown prince of golf |

Barkley the clown prince of golf

Rick Chandler

It sounds preposterous, but could it be that Charles Barkley missed his calling?

“First of all, basketball is the greatest game ever. But golf … you gotta like golf. It grows on you,” said Barkley, the Houston Rockets power forward. “I used to think of golf as a way to get out into the open air and get away from people bugging you to death all the time. That’s still true, but the game itself is becoming interesting to me.”

Barkley made his long-awaited debut at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championships at Edgewood Tahoe on Thursday during the Celeb-Am day of the event. Groups of four amateur golfers were paired with one celebrity participant for 18 rounds.

Many of the amateurs will have a few great stories to tell after playing a round with Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky or Dan Marino. But the four golfers paired with Barkley got a little extra for their sponsorship fee – let’s just call it “Caddyshack” comes to Tahoe.

It was the first tee, and Barkley had just been introduced to the gallery in the stands. “Hey man,” he announced, “I’m just here for my good looks. OK, let’s here it for me.”

It was like that for 18 holes, with Barkley working just as hard to entertain the crowd as he does setting a pick or working for a rebound.

As one of his partners was about to tee off: “Don’t let all these people watching get on your nerves, man.”

As the hapless golfer finally got off a weak drive: “Hey, clap for him, y’all. Don’t make him feel bad!” (Crowd applauds).

Then, as the golfer leaves to follow his shot down the fairway, Barkley turns to the crowd and says: “Damn, that shot didn’t even make it to the Senior tees.”

Barkley’s antics remind one a bit of Bill Murray mugging for the crowd at Pebble Beach. It’s the kind of personality infusion that the game desperately needs – and the American Century officials must be delighted that Barkley plans to make Tahoe a regular destination in the future.

“You can’t beat the beauty and the atmosphere,” said Barkley. “Tahoe is great. I play in several celebrity tournaments, but this is definitely the best one. It’s a chance to catch up with old friends and I cherish that.”

Barkley said that if he could change anything about golf, it would be the fact that minorities are still not evenly represented.

“They have to find a way to open up the country club scene to minorities,” he said. “When I play golf, 95 percent of the time I’m the only black guy on the course.

“It’s not that I’m uncomfortable, because I’m with friends. But I wish it would open up more.”

And his opinion of his own game?

“It’s rugged, uneven … I’m like a lot of NBA teams, pretty bad right now,” he said. “But I’m here to have fun.”

And that he did. His comments were not even restricted to those in his own group. Often Barkley could be heard yelling at other groups on nearby holes.

“Hey, Marcus! (Allen). That’s the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen!”

For their part, Barkley’s golfing partners were glad they got to go along for the ride.

“He was everything I hoped for and more,” said Dan Darfler of Charlotte, N.C. “I’ve been very impressed with the way he handles the crowd. He always has an opinion, no matter what happens. Golf needs that.”

By the way, the man’s not a bad golfer. His swing has a curious hitch to it, but he definitely knows his way around the links. He was 1-over par over the first 10 holes on Thursday.

“Charles is a great man. I respect Charles a lot,” said Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who will be playing with Barkley when the tournament opens on Friday. “I’m with Ahmad (Rashad), too. What a crew that is going to be. I respect Charles because he and I are a lot alike.”

Barkley has now and again mentioned that he might like to get into politics when his basketball career is over. But right now, he is more interested in the politics of the golf course.

On the 11th green, Barkley nudged a shot toward the hole that stopped about three feet short.

“One last repetition in the weight room and that ball would have got there!” he lamented. “Less weight, more repetition. That’s the key to golf.”

Let’s hope that Tahoe gets a little Barkley repetition next year.

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