PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Charles Barkley, former NBA star now PGA TOUR Champions fan
June 16, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- June 16, 2021
- Charles Barkley with John Daly during a pro-am at the PGA TOUR Champions Mitsubishi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf on May 12, 2021. (Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR)
Charles Barkley tells a reporter no one watches more golf than he does.
The reporter has no trouble believing him after watching on social media what transpired prior to a pro-am at the PGA TOUR Champions’ first major of the season, the Regions Tradition, in Barkley’s home state of Alabama in May.
The NBA legend was in the middle of taking questions from a handful of local media outlets at a news conference just behind the range when he halted things.
Why? Because he recognized Tim Petrovic’s caddie and wanted to find Petrovic to tell him how much he admired the swing of the Champions Tour veteran.
“I watch a lot of PGA TOUR Champions,” Barkley, 58, said. “I told Tim I like his swing. I’ve always liked his swing, even when he was playing on the regular TOUR.
“Nobody watches more golf than me. I love watching it. And I just … when Tim hits it, his swing is so simple. I’ve always just liked it.”
Petrovic, 11th in the current Charles Schwab Cup standings, was just minding his own business on the range getting ready for another Wednesday pro-am. He was flabbergasted even when recalling the meeting with the Hall of Fame forward.
“It was pretty cool. I’d never met him before,” said Petrovic, whose lone win on the PGA TOUR came at the 2005 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. “He goes, ‘Where’s Petro?’ He kind of walked around the corner and grabbed me.
“I was appreciative that he admired my swing. Two guys from different parts of the world and different professions but both being pro athletes. I didn’t tell him I admired his swing, but I know he’s been working on it.”
Ah yes, the golf swing of Charles Barkley. Something from which even a trainwreck would avert its eyes. The swing that launched a thousand memes. A swing about which everyone in golf had an opinion.
It wasn’t always unwatchable, Barkley says. And fortunately he has gotten back to a place where he can make a reasonably fluid swing, thanks to teaching pro Stan Utley.
“He’s done some remarkable things,” Barkley said. “My friends call him Mr. Miyagi.
“I used to be a good player and then I started taking lessons from every person in the world. I’d be standing over the ball and have at least 56 people talking to me at one time and didn’t know who to listen to. I would only play in Tahoe and with friends because it wasn’t fun to play anymore. Nobody wants to suck. I don’t mind sucking for charity. But I met Stan at Tom Lehnan’s golf tournament, and he said let me spend some time with you. I said, ‘Stan, I only play for charity. I don’t enjoy it. It’s no fun.’ And he said, ‘Well, you got nothing to lose.’ I’m probably playing better than I ever have in my life with Stan.”
Barkley didn't take up golf until the relatively old age of 26. Philadelphia 76ers teammate Andrew Toney was going to play 18 on a day off, and Barkley, who had never picked up a club, asked if he could tag along.
Like most any first-timer, he stunk. Yet he still was mesmerized by the game. Suffice it to say he was hooked (and would go on to hit many hooks, too).
“That first day … not being able to hit a ball that’s standing still was the most maddening and hilarious thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Barkley said. “At that time I had made my second NBA All-Star team. I figure I’m pretty damn good at something. And to stand there and not be able to hit something that’s not moving. You’re like, ‘Something’s going on here. No way I can’t hit a target that’s not moving.’
“I felt like just hitting it was hard. I’m talking about missing the ball totally. It’s crazy how hard golf is. How can I not hit something that’s standing still. That’s just crazy.”
But golf was a great off-day activity. It took up a nice chunk of time. It was just Barkley and his friends. He enjoyed the banter, the distraction it provided. From that day on it became a lifelong passion.
“I really enjoy golf personally,” Barkley said. “I love walking. I love being out there and nobody wants pictures and autographs. Golf is basically the only thing you can do when you’re famous and there ain’t people always walking up to you wanting autographs and taking pictures.
“You think about it though. You go with three of your friends and you all are just having a great time. It’s especially … I’m a jock’s jock. I love being around jocks, the amount of trash-talking that’s going on is like a whole different … it’s the closest you’re gonna get to playing again. … That’s the one thing you miss when you don’t play your sport anymore -- how you all ride each other every day. Golf gives you that chance to walk around with three of your friends and give each other trash for four or five hours. It’s the best thing. It’s the closest I can get to playing.”
Barkley played with David Toms at the pro-am in Alabama. He walked the first round at the Regions Tradition following his pal John Daly, with whom he played in the pro-am a week later at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic outside Atlanta.
His reverence for the game and his celebrity status make Barkley great for PGA TOUR Champions.
“Playing with John and David Toms and I’ve played with some other PGA TOUR Champions players … playing with a pro it’s just crazy how good they are,” Barkley said. “I followed John for 18 holes in Birmingham and he hit only one bad shot the whole damn day. Same thing with David. That is so cool to be able to just do what they do.”