How Charles Barkley rebuilt his golf swing, according to the instructor who led the charge

charles barkley swings club

After years of struggles, Charles Barkley's golf game is back.

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Golf this year is rich with stories of revival.

Jordan Spieth is back from a long walk in the wilderness. Stewart Cink is doing his best Benjamin Button. And—could it really be?— Charles Barkley is playing to a single digit.

So says the man himself, anyway, and evidence suggests that he might be right.

Social media has been ablaze this week with video snippets of Sir Charles competing in Wednesday’s pro-am at the Tradition, a PGA Tour Champions event in Alabama.

Gone, it seems, is his tragic-comic hitch, replaced by a movement that looks more like a golf swing than it does a spasm. The improvements Barkley showed during last fall’s nationally televised Match in Tucson appear to have taken root.

What gives?

According to Barkley, the noted instructor Stan Utley deserves most of the credit for setting him on a path to redemption.

Utley says he appreciates the praise, even if he finds it overstated.  All Utley did, he insists, was help clear up a muddle in Barkley’s fundamentals that prevented him from properly loading and unloading the club. (For more on the evolution of Barkley’s swing, see here).

charles barkley's swing
‘It wasn’t for lack of trying’: An unauthorized history of Charles Barkley’s tortured golf swing
By: Josh Sens

So, Barkley’s got that going for him, which is nice. But is he really playing to a single digit?

Reached by Golf.com this week, Utley said he couldn’t vouch for Barkley’s index. But he also said it hardly matters.

“If you shoot an 84, say, that makes you about a 9-handicap, and Charles can definitely do that, so maybe he is a single digit. I don’t really know, and I don’t really care,” Utley said. “What’s matters is that he can finish an entire round of golf.”

In the months since Tucson, Utley said that he and Barkley haven’t seen much of each other. But a week ago Friday, Barkley swung by Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale and joined for nine holes while Utley was giving a playing lesson to a local high school student.

The instructor liked what he saw.

“He’s swinging free and easy,” Utley said.

Over the years, media accounts of Barkley’s on-course woes often described him as suffering from a mental block.

Utley said that’s a misperception. The real issue was never in Barkley’s head.

“I wish you people in the media would stop saying that Charles had a mental issue,” Utley said. “Mentally, Charles is a beast. The root of his problems weren’t mental at all.”

Utley said that he and Barkley have no immediate plans to get together for formal lessons. But if they did, Utley said he’d likely leave Barkley’s full swing alone and focus on dialing in his short game.

“His putting stroke is mediocre at best but he gets good results because he has such great hands,” Utley said.

And chipping?

“That could use some work,” Utley said.

Not that he harped on that during their nine-hole outing. Mostly Utley said, he just sat back and enjoyed the sight of a man enjoying the game again.

“The only thing I really asked him was, ‘When you’re playing with your buddies, Are you winning any money?’” Utley said. “He looked at me and goes, ‘I’m winning all of it.’­­­­

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.