STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — Charles Barkley goes into the 20th annual Lake Tahoe Celebrity Golf Championship at the bottom of the tote board.
He doesn’t expect to make it on to the leader board.
“Let’s be realistic,” said Barkley, given one chance in 500 to win the 75-player tournament. “There’s probably five to 10 guys who have a legitimate shot at winning this thing.”
Barkley has finished last twice and tied for the bottom spot another time. He’s never lacked for fans, though. He tends to draw the largest, most rollicking galleries, along with actors Ray Romano and Kevin Nealon.
The top golfers among the past and present sports stars and celebrities when the tournament begins Friday at Lake Tahoe will include ex-major league pitcher Rick Rhoden, former hockey stars Dan Quinn and Grant Fuhr and current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Rhoden, the 9-5 favorite who barely missed qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open earlier this month, is the defending champ in search of a record eighth career victory in the 54-hole tournament at Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course.
Other multiple champs include Quinn, who has done it four times, and ex-quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, who has won twice, most recently in 2005.
But there’s always a number of competitions within the tournament, side wagers like when Barkley and former NBA star Chris Webber bet $50,000 on who would finish last in 2005 and 2006.
Webber collected both times for his favorite charity.
It turns out there is one contest Barkley thinks he someday might have a chance to win – thanks to a monthslong series of lessons from Tiger Woods’ swing coach, Hank Haney.
“One of my goals is to win the Black Masters one year. That’s my only goal,” Barkley said during a teleconference promoting NBC Sports’ made-for-TV event.
“We call Lake Tahoe the Black Masters because we have our own tournament. You’ve got to be a quarterback or hockey player (to win) so the black guys, we joke around, we call it the Black Masters,” he said.
Barkley said his real purpose at the event is to enjoy the beauty of Lake Tahoe, socialize with friends, talk with fans – and sing karaoke in the casino lounges.
“Marcus Allen is the karaoke king, just for the record. We’ve got Jerry Rice and all those guys up there singing karaoke for three or four hours. It is crazy every night,” he said.
“It ain’t like I’m going to bed at 10 o’clock. Ain’t like I’m going to lose the tournament because I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.”
Barkley admits he might change his ways if he ever managed to put together three good rounds of golf.
“Hypothetically in the next few years if I’m leading the Black Masters one night, you can be damn sure I’m going to go to bed and try to get the major.”
Former all-star outfielder Vince Coleman said he, Barkley, Michael Jordan and Ahmad Rashad launched the special competition a decade ago because most of the black former pro athletes playing at Tahoe then had started golfing only after their careers in other sports ended.
“We haven’t talked about that in years. But now Charles is bringing it up again because he’s all excited about his new golf swing,” Coleman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Former NBA all-star Alonzo Mourning is among this year’s tourney newcomers and is already focused on the first tee.
“Don’t shank it. That’s it. Just hit it straight,” said Mourning, who has memberships at five different golf courses in south Florida.
“I’m not going to go out there and embarrass myself. I’ll hold my own,” he said. “But if I played this game for a living, I’d be homeless.”