Back in the early 90s, I spent a lot of time working with a well-known golf instructor in Scottsdale, Arizona. I would make the drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to spend an occasional weekend fine tuning my game with this gentleman. More often than not, I would be sharing the range with some PGA Tour players. However, it wasn’t these tour players that would capture my attention while I was practicing. There was another guy on the range once in a while who stood out amongst all others. His name was Charles Barkley.
Charles Barkley played basketball for the Phoenix Suns from 1992-1996. Prior to joining the Suns, he had been an All-Star with the Philadelphia Sixers. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a lot of golf to be played in Philadelphia during the basketball season. Phoenix, on the other hand, was a different story. Upon joining the Suns, Barkley began taking golf lessons from the same instructor I was working with. Believe it or not, he was actually pretty good. His golf swing didn’t have the recognizable ‘hitch’ that he is so famous for nowadays. His swing had tremendous rhythm and balance. However, this all changed after winning the NBA MVP Award in 1993. The combination of his love for golf, and his new status as the NBA MVP, presented Barkley with more invitations to golf in Celebrity Golf Tournaments.
Celebrity Golf Tournaments attract pretty large crowds. For most of these celebrities, they were used to performing in front of large crowds. Primarily the athletes. As Charles Barkley began hitting golf shots with the gallery off to the side, a growing concern of striking one of them with his golf ball filled his mind. Suddenly, the rhythm and balance that he displayed on the practice range had disappeared. Instead, he developed the ‘hitch’ on his downswing that prevented him from playing the caliber of golf he had become accustomed to.
Years later, Barkley became the first student on a new golf program called “The Haney Project,” featuring world renowned golf instructor, Hank Haney. The premise of the show was that Haney would spend a few months working with a celebrity on their golf game. At the end of their time together, even Hank Haney was unable to cure Charles Barkley of his ‘hitch.’
Charles Barkley suffers from a full-swing equivalent of the ‘yips.’ That nervous reaction that takes over in many golfers as they stand over a short putt. Ultimately, it comes down to ‘mind over matter.’ Nothing changed in Barkley’s golf swing from the physical standpoint. It was all stemmed from his mind begging him not to strike anyone in the gallery with his golf ball. I’ve always felt that he would have been better served to spend time with sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, rather than a swing guru like Hank Haney. Last I heard, Charles Barkley is attempting to learn to play left-handed. I wish him all the luck in the world.