Former NBA star Charles Barkley once famously said, “I am not a role model.” We didn’t know it back then, but he was talking about his golf swing.
Maybe you’ve seen any number of videos on the Internet featuring Barkley awkwardly hacking away on the tee box at a celebrity golf tournament. (Google “Charles Barkley Golf Swing” and see for yourself. We’ll wait.)
Dreadful, isn’t it? It’s the golf equivalent of Elaine dancing on Seinfeld. Sweet fancy Moses.
Shortly after Barkley’s swing caught on like wildfire on the web, GOLF CHANNEL announced that it would undertake a daunting endeavor: The network would put Barkley under the tutelage of world-renowned golf instructor Hank Haney, who trained some golfer named Tiger Woods, and film Barkley’s progress for a TV series. The end result is The Haney Project: Charles Barkley, a seven-episode reality series premiering March 2 at 9pm ET on GOLF CHANNEL (HD).
When we talked with Barkley in the middle of shooting the series in December, he was aware that his golf swing was bad. He just wasn’t aware that it was entertainingly bad.
“I just recently found out my golf swing was a phenomenon on the Internet,” Barkley told us. “And it’s funny, because I don’t use the Internet, to be honest with you. I’ve never touched a computer in my life. When we started this [show], we started going to the Internet looking what people were saying about my golf swing. I didn’t even realize what people were saying about it. I mean, I knew it was bad. Clearly, I knew my swing was bad. But I didn’t realize everybody in the world was clicking on and looking at my swing.”
Looking at Barkley’s swing, one would presume he’d first picked up a golf club five minutes ago, but that’s hardly the case. “I’ve played for 20 years. I started when I was about 25,” Barkley says. “I’ve gotten so bad at it that I play only twice a year now. I used to be actually a decent player, and I used to play every single day. But for the last probably three to four years, I play like twice a year.”
So what happened? “I developed this thing in my swing. I just developed — I guess you can call it the ‘yips’ — I just lost my swing,” Barkley explains.
Enter Haney, the Jedi Master of golf, who got to work on Barkley’s biggest problem — the one between his ears. “He tells me to think about what I’m trying to do,” Barkley says of Haney’s teaching approach. “One of the reasons we think I have the yips is that I was just trying to hit the golf ball. I wasn’t thinking about what a club should be and things like that. … Most people think that you just try to hit the golf ball. But realistically there are certain things in the golf swing that you have to do to hit good shots. He’s actually teaching me how the golf swing works, and that’s the thing that’s been cool and fun for me.”
Correcting years of bad habits isn’t going to be all fun and games, though. It’s going to take tons of practice from Barkley and tons of patience from Haney to work the kinks out, and the master and his outspoken student are sure to butt heads on more than one occasion. “He’s a lot more intense than I realized, because I’d only been around him in social settings,” Barkley says of Haney. “But he makes you work extremely hard. Also, he gets on you pretty good. That’s probably one thing that surprised me.”
When Haney is done putting him through the ringer, Barkley hopes he’s at least good enough to make regular tee times again. “My only goal, realistically, is just to play golf. It’s a great game,” he says. “One of the reasons I really love playing golf and being out there, is that you go out there with some friends — it’s like the only place a celebrity can get peace and quiet, to be honest with you. Like I tell people, if you go bowling or you go to the supermarket or you go to the dry cleaner, people are all over you. But to go out there with three of your friends and walk around in the middle of the trees and things, I just love that.”
Barkley probably could use an escape into the woods these days, after an embarrassing DUI arrest on New Year’s Eve that once again made him an unwilling icon on the Interweb. (Google “Charles Barkley DUI Tattoo Urkel Wine Coolers Bear Claw” for more interesting details about that.) Barkley was put on leave from his job as an NBA analyst for TNT and lost his endorsement gig with T-Mobile. Combine the DUI with the revelation of massive gambling debts last year, and it seems Sir Charles has more important matters to fix than his golf game. But hey, he’s got to start somewhere.
Follow The Haney Project: Charles Barkley weekly recaps on our blog!
Photo: Credit: GOLF CHANNEL