Charles Barkley has perhaps the most critiqued—and criticized and laughed at—swing in golf, but he does love the game and that’s all good by us. And he’s working hard to get better.
With the NBA playoffs heating up, Barkley and his co-hosts are busy on the set of the hit TV show Inside the NBA on TNT.
Next month, he’ll make yet another appearance in the American Century Championship, the premiere celebrity golf tournament that’s held annually at the scenic Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Owned and broadcast by NBC Sports, this will be the 32nd year of the made-for-TV event which has a purse of $600,000 but also raises funds for local and national charities. The tournament is a 54-hole modified Stableford format. It’s not uncommon for Barkley to finish last in the 80-golfer field.
In advance of the event, Barkley talks about his game, his new swing coach, Phil Mickelson and the NBA playoffs.
Have you been working on your game?
Charles Barkley plays his shot from the first tee during Capital One’s The Match: Champions For Change at Stone Canyon Golf Club on Nov. 27, 2020 in Oro Valley, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for The Match
Listen, I am excited. I’m playing really, really well. I’ve had a lot of improvement in the last couple of years. I actually started playing well up there. Better, I shouldn’t say well, better the last couple of years. And my teacher Stan Utley, we’ve come a long way. I can’t wait to get there and show it off.
What are some of your goals this time around?
Charles Barkley plays a shot during Capital One’s The Match: Champions For Change at Stone Canyon Golf Club on November 27, 2020 in Oro Valley, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for The Match
I just want to play and have fun. It hasn’t been fun for me for 25 years to play golf. I only play in Lake Tahoe because I love coming there. It wasn’t like I was having fun on the golf course. I’m not going to tell you that lie. But man it’s so much more fun to go out and hit a bunch of good shots. I feel really good, really good about where I am. I just gotta keep working harder. As far as my goals, I had to make birdie on 18 last year not to come in last. So I hope first of all, it was the worst birdie in the history. I dribbled it like 75 yards and it jumped over the bunker.
What kept you motivated to keep playing golf?
When you get old and fat there’s only a couple of things you can do: golf and fish. And I’m a lot better fisherman than I am a golfer. I like walking. I get to do it for four days. It’s pretty cool. I meet a bunch of same friends. My caddie, I met my caddie there 20 some years ago. He’s married now. Got two kids that are teenagers and he brings them out to the course. I’ve been with the same caddie for probably the entire tournament. And to see him and every year his teenage girls, and they’re beautiful, and it’s probably about 10 to 15 people who I see every year I come to Lake Tahoe. We grab dinner and talk about where we are in life, how everybody’s life is going. So it’s pretty special to me in that aspect.
What did you learn from playing with Phil Mickelson in the Match?
Phil Mickelson and Charles Barkley talk on the eighth green during Capital One’s The Match: Champions For Change at Stone Canyon Golf Club on November 27, 2020 in Oro Valley, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for The Match
Phil Mickelson is a great friend of mine. I’ve known him a long time, him and Amy. They’re awesome. But Phil is that annoying friend. When you ask him a question, instead of answering your question. … like, if you said, ‘Hey, what’s the weather like?’ He says, ‘You want the humidity, the barometric pressure, the high and low for the day?’ No, man, I just want the damn weather. Tell me what the temperature is right now. So, even though as great a guy he is when you ask him a question, it’s like, yo, what do you think of this putt? Well it’s down grain, it’s into the grain, it’s going to pull towards the valley. Yo, man, just tell me where to hit the putt. I ain’t got time to be analyzing down grain, up grain. But, you know, he’s such an awesome dude. It’s so funny, he calls me the day before the match and says, hey, I’m flying up, I want you to drive up and play a practice round with me. I’m like, dude, tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. He’s like, no, no, we need to get a practice round in. I’m flying in from San Diego. I’m like, yo, man, it’s Thanksgiving. And I have to spend my Thanksgiving day driving two hours to play a practice round for a charity event. That’s how crazy he is. But that’s how bad he wanted to win.
What advice do you have for golfers who have been struggling for years?
Charles Barkley reacts to a missed putt on the first green during Capital One’s The Match: Champions For Change at Stone Canyon Golf Club on Nov. 27, 2020 in Oro Valley, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for The Match
I’m not going to lie, I had given up golf. And I met Stan Utley and he said, Chuck, let me work with you a little bit. I said, Stan, I’ve worked with everybody in the world. He said, well, then one more’s not going to hurt. I think you just have to keep trying things and sometimes it clicks. To be honest with you, maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough, because it’s hard to practice on something when you suck at it. Stan said something to me, he said, ‘When you stand over the ball, how many people are talking to you?’ I said, ‘That’s a great question. I never been asked that before.’ And in fairness I probably had, I’ve had 10 teachers, 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, this guy said.’ And after about three hours of hitting balls, I hit more – we were just 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 said, ‘Hey, man, you can’t think 10 things over a golf ball.’
What do you think of Kevin Durant, the Nets and the ‘super team’ trend?
I’m rooting against those guys. I think you already know that. KD is a great player. And I think he’s a great kid. I don’t know him that well. But I’m not a fan of super teams. So, listen, if they win it, they win it. But I want it perfectly clear, I’m rooting against those guys. I root against all super teams. That’s just the way I’m old school. I said the other day if I would have known you guys were going to make fun of me for not winning the championship I would have joined a super team back in my day.
[mm-video type=playlist id=01es6rjnsp3c84zkm6 player_id=01evcfxp4q8949fs1e image=https://golfweek.usatoday.com/wp-content/plugins/mm-video/images/playlist-icon.png]