Barkley vs. Shaq — plus Anthony Kim?! This golf match had it all
In the coming months, when memories of The Match, Vol. 7 begin to fade, there will be another Match announced. Newer and better and different. There’s never been anything like it, promoters will crow. And in some ways they’ll be right.
But while I was wandering down a path in the deep forests of the golf internet the other day I stumbled across the remnants of a different match. A true nothing-like-it spectacle. If Brooks vs. Bryson feels like it happened a decade ago, a 2010 showdown pitting Charles Barkley and Bubba Watson against Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Kim feels like it happened in an alternate universe. But somehow, it’s real. (As real as O’Neal playing for the Celtics, whose roster he was on at the time…)
Roll the tape!
WHAT WAS SHAQ VS.?
The SportsCenter hit, narrated by Josh Elliott, teases a then-recent episode of “Shaq Vs.,” a challenge-based reality show on ESPN sister network ABC that ran two seasons, five episodes each, spanning 2009-2010. Each episode’s conceit is the same: O’Neal takes on another professional athlete in some version of their sport.
In the pilot episode, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger beats him 21-14 in a 7-on-7 scrimmage at a Pennsylvania high school. The next episode he and Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers take on Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh and lose 11-6, 11-8. The Ls pile up; Albert Pujols takes him down in a home run derby, Oscar de la Hoya beats him in the boxing ring and Michael Phelps wins a series of swim races. O’Neal finishes the first season 0-5.
Oh well. Season 2 begins much the same way as Season 1, but now episodes feature multiple challenges (and thus multiple losses); Shaq loses to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in an auto race and then to National Spelling Bee champ Kavya Shivashankar in a spell-off. He loses to Shane Mosley in a boxing match and Penn and Teller in a magic competition. He loses to Rachel Ray in a cook-off. But then he finally picks up some momentum with a split decision in a running race against sprinter Tyson Gay; he runs 30 meters faster than Gay runs 60 meters. (Gay’s relay team beat O’Neal’s, resulting in a tie for the competition.) Suddenly he’s gone from 0-10 to 0-10-1. Momentum is on his side.
Enter the Barkley match.
SHAQ VS. BARKLEY
Elliott pulls no punches in his Barkley introduction, describing him as “perhaps the worst golfer to ever disgrace the game.”
He sets up the challenge’s storyline: “Can a man be so bad at a sport that another man who’s never played the sport is actually better? Which is to ask — have you seen Charles Barkley play golf?”
Then we see Barkley. Long before his recent makeover, he was in such a dark place with his golf swing that he tried everything. Including, in this case, literally playing left-handed. Left-handed! Dark times.
The lefty of the moment — Bubba Watson — looks on as Barkley warms up. Watson wasn’t yet a Masters champ at this point but he had won his first PGA Tour event at the Travelers in June and was very much a rising star, if a slightly late bloomer at the age of 31. If only he could have transferred some of that mojo to his playing partner.
O’Neal doesn’t exactly take it easy on his future TNT TV partner.
“He’s the worst golf player on the internet,” he said. “His swing’s terrible, his form’s terrible, but he thinks he can play golf. I can get this guy.”
“It’s called ‘Shaq Vs.’ — but you lose all the time. It should be called ‘Shaq Loses.'”
A little research tells us that this five-hole match took place at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, Calif. Barkley was paired up with Watson, while O’Neal got Anthony Kim. At this point, Kim is a full-fledged star, too; he’d won his third career PGA Tour event in April 2010, becoming the fifth player in 30 years to have win three times on the PGA Tour before the age of 25. The others? Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.
Fun fact: a later interview with Bubba Watson revealed that this was Kim’s first time playing golf since having thumb surgery — and there wasn’t even a driving range where he could warm up.
What, exactly, was the team format? I’m not sure. Lost to the sands of time.
The video is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth discussing Shaq’s golf swing. Actually not half-bad! He’s hardly Jon Rahm or Tony Finau, but there’s plenty of power in that short backswing and he puts plenty of heft behind the ball, too. He looks like he could be instantly competitive with Barkley, who tees off lefty but appears to be chipping and putting righty…
The teams wind up tied after five holes thanks to some mediocrity around the greens from Barkley. But during some sort of playoff — a putt-off? — Shaq sends one careening off the back of the middle of the cup and in. Shaq! From deep!
For a moment it looks like he might jump in the lake or perhaps toss his partner in instead; Kim is half O’Neal’s weight and about 14 inches shorter, too.
And with that, Shaq becomes a winner. And so do you.
Let’s run that Match back.