Basketball is a sport I don’t play and barely understand (primarily because the damn hole is in the air), yet I adore Charles Barkley as an announcer. Much like John McEnroe, Sir Charles has the ability to open his mouth and allow whatever is in his massive, shiny cranium to fly out, unfiltered by thought of consequences. This is a beautiful thing, and long may it continue for both of them, the two best announcers in sports.
Believe it or not, despite the well-documented point that Barkley’s golf swing is as painful to watch as The View (if they had just put that show on a loop in the cells at Gitmo when they opened it, we’d have had all the confessions we needed within 15 minutes), I actually admire the big man’s golf game, and for once I’m being sincere. Toward the end of last year George Lopez and I were hosting our annual pro-am at Vaquero Club in Westlake, Texas, when Sir Charles hit the range for a lesson with Hank Haney. Accompanied by a Golf Channel crew, student and teacher made a show of attempting to banish the infamous spasm that occurs in the middle of Charles’s backswing.
Here’s a man who doesn’t need to be doing this in public, who has accepted all of the abuse thrown his way with grace and good humor, who clearly loves the game of golf, and who makes a constant effort to get better, undeterred by what seems to the rest of us an impossible goal.
I further admire Charles because I know the yips eventually get to all of us, no matter who we are or what we do — life yips, relationship yips, job yips, public-toilet yips. (Okay, that last one might just be me.) In golf, the yips affect the fine motor skills, resulting in skinny wedge shots, pathetic stabs with the putter and/or drives that only gravity keeps on the planet. Here’s what happens: You set out to make a swing or a stroke, but your mind tells you that you are a dilwad and that something that feels this bad can’t possibly work and so you had better make seventeen minor adjustments on the fly to limit the damage that is about to occur.
Admit it, you’re more than familiar with that sequence. And here’s the thing, Sir Charles is not alone in having this happen to him in the middle of his full swing. I can name three major champions who had more than a few full-swing yippity-do-dah days, starting with my old cobber on the CBS crew, Ian Baker-Flinch, who at one point by his own admission couldn’t have hit the Gulf of Mexico off an oil rig. Finchy hit it OB off both the first and 18th tees at St. Andrews, which would be pretty hard to do even if you were trying. Then there’s Seve, bless his lion heart and pray for his wounded head. At times golf’s greatest magician hit the ball so far off line that Lassie wouldn’t have found it if it had been wrapped in bacon. And lest we forget, after winning the Open Championship, David Duval needed Google Earth to locate his pill.
So give Sir Charles a little slack. Just like the champions mentioned above, his only mistake is caring too much. I may not be much of a coach, but I’ve been to a few psychiatrists, and the trick is this: You have to find a way to take your mind off what might happen, and pay attention to what is happening. Look inward, Charles. George and I saw you on that practice tee with Hank, smoking them 300 yards down the range, and you were smooth. Swing like Hank has shown you, and then don’t think at all. Let the club go where it wants to go, like the words do when you open your mouth on TNT. That way you’ll find out where the ball goes when you make a comfortable swing, and all Hank will have to do is point you in the right direction.