SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. -- Charles Barkley's trademark stop-and-start golf swing, which sports fans have grown to know, love and lose sleep over, may be a relic of cringe-inducing videos past.
On Thursday the stars warmed up during a final practice round at tree-lined Edgewood Tahoe South G.C., site of the American Century Championship, the annual celebrity bash along the banks of Lake Tahoe. Barkley is among the headliners, and he played his pro-am round as the sun slowly descended behind snow-capped mountains. Nothing could tarnish the beautiful setting — not even his golf swing.
I watched Sir Charles play two holes. He took a quick-but-fluid hack on the par-3 17th, which runs along the beach, and his shot settled just short of the green. On the par-5 18th, he pulled driver and flashed a small hitch in his downswing, but one that was far less jarring than some of the Barkley horror films you’ll find on YouTube.
Check out two of his swings from Thursday:
Charles Barkley is showing off an improved golf swing this year. Yes, that's not saying much, but still! pic.twitter.com/6X1R7s9FGg— GOLF.com (@golf_com) July 14, 2017
"This is the best I've seen him play, and I've known him a long time," said Mark Mitchell, an executive at the local Harveys and Harrah's casinos who played in Barkley's group. "He pauses in his swing occasionally, but not like he used to."
Color me curious to see if his swing holds up when the bigger crowds and TV cameras roll in Friday. Barkley has become an annual punch line here, and oddmakers seem to agree. Tony Romo and defending champ Mark Mulder have been installed as co-favorites at 3-to-1 odds. Barkley is the longest of long-shots at 6000-to-1, behind the likes of other notorious hackers such as Kevin Nealon and Larry the Cable Guy. Here's the full sheet from the sports book at the local Harvey's Casino.
Thursday Barkley walked with a limp (he had hip surgery last year and has battled knee issues), but seemed to enjoy himself. Among the one-liners over-served fans hollered in his direction:
"Have a beer, Chuck!"
"It'll get better at the tables!"
"How's the knee, Chuck?"
To that last query, Barkley turned and said he was all good. Full speed ahead. Here's the real question: Are we ready for a world in which Barkley plays like a competent, nothing-to-gawk-at-here golfer? Could he -- dare we say it -- actually contend in this tournament?
That's probably pushing it. But, at 6,000-1, hell, I'll drop a couple of bucks on him.