Strangers stop Charles Barkley on the street seemingly every day. Not too surprising – except they don’t want to talk about his Hall of Fame basketball career or his gig as a popular NBA television analyst.
Ordinary folks are offering athletic advice, on how to improve his golf swing.
“It’s kind of funny, but it’s kind of like, ‘Wow, I must really suck,”’ Barkley said of what might be the world’s most infamous golf swing.
So Barkley is pursuing a very modern solution: a reality TV series.
None other than Tiger Woods’ coach, Hank Haney, is confronting the challenge on the “The Haney Project,” which premieres Monday on the Golf Channel.
“Other than Tiger, I’ve never had a student who’s worked this hard,” Haney said.
Barkley’s swing begins to unravel soon after he brings his club back. He starts to take it forward then jerks to a stop, throwing his body off balance, before wildly striking at the ball.
His determination to fix the swing is only partly about pride. After all, the gregarious former NBA star will still display it in public at charity events.
Mostly, the 46-year-old Barkley misses the peace and quiet of heading to the course with three buddies – the one venue where strangers aren’t always coming up to him. He used to play daily during the summer.
“Now it’s twice a year,” he said. “It just happens to be on television.”
Barkley once was a 10-handicap golfer and could break 80. Now he can’t break 100. He finished last at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in July.
“My goal is to go out and have fun because I haven’t been having fun on the golf course in maybe 10 years,” Barkley said.
Haney theorized that Barkley’s famous hitch would go away if he improved his entire swing.
“I saw a bad swing that had reason to hitch,” Haney said. “I never saw a good swing with a hitch in it.”
After working with his new pupil, Haney still believes that, but he is also spending more time trying to eliminate any mental blocks that are causing the hitch.
The two have shot five of the projected seven episodes. Whether the series will have a happy ending is still a mystery – to Barkley and Haney.
“It’s been very difficult, to be honest with you,” Barkley said. “I thought I’d be better now.”
He seemed to be making great progress on the practice range. Then he tried to carry over his new-and-improved swing to the course. “Deflating,” is how Barkley described the experience.
The series premieres as Barkley has been drawing some unwanted publicity. He pleaded guilty Monday to two misdemeanor charges stemming from his drunken-driving arrest in late December.
“I made a mistake and just have to take the beatdown,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s 100 percent my fault.”
Barkley has been hitting at least 1,000 balls a day as he seeks to revamp his swing. He’s found Haney to be a demanding instructor.
“I never thought that golf coaches screamed,” Barkley said.
Part of Barkley’s appeal as a player was that he wasn’t the tallest or most athletically gifted guy on the court. Fans could relate to an undersized power forward whose girth earned him the nickname “Round Mound of Rebound.”
The new series shows Barkley in a predicament many recreational golfers can relate to.
“There’s this sort of idea people enjoy watching the misery of others,” said executive producer Steve Rotfeld. “Charles’ golf game is very entertaining. It’s sort of just one big blooper.”
And there’s something fascinating about watching a sports star struggle so mightily at an athletic endeavor.
“The most perplexing thing about it is here we have a guy who’s one of the greatest athletes in history who absolutely cannot take a golf club, take it back and swing it through and not have spasmodic hitches in his swing,” Rotfeld said.
It’s humbling for Barkley, because, as he put it, “I’ve never sucked at anything in my life.”
“I’ve never choked before,” he said. “That’s what’s been very difficult for me from an ego standpoint.”
Haney believes Barkley can lower his handicap to around 5. His short game is strong, the coach said, and his putting is even stronger.
“He’s powerful and hits it forever when he doesn’t have the hitch,” Haney said.
Haney is confident Barkley will accomplish his goals: “He won’t be denied.”