Bad even for Barkley
Charles Barkley struggles on No. 17.
LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - It's the 18th hole, and our protagonist lines up for a 37-foot putt with Lake Tahoe as a sparkling backdrop. Would he make it, providing a fitting-if-not-expected end to Charles Barkley Day?
Here's the putt .... .... .... success! The gallery goes wild, and Sir Charles considers jumping into the arms of Rick Reilly, but then remembers the law of physics. Instead he gives him a bear hug.
Further celebration ensues after signing his scorecard, when Barkley walks toward the clubhouse and is intercepted by none other than Dan Quayle. Mr. Vice President also gives Charles a hug. (Not to get into politics here, but if I knew that a Quayle Squeeze was in store, I'd miss the shot on purpose.) Anyway, the big news is that Barkley is not in last place. We repeat: Not in last. That distinction belongs to Jay Cutler (who must be, as the Japanese might say, filled with shame). In fact, Brian Baumgartner (Kevin from The Office) says that his only goal this weekend is to finish ahead of Barkley. Similar sentiments abound at the American Century.
But stinky golfer or not, Barkley is revered here. Some Sir Charles wit and wisdom:
On the 15th (after Wells and Reilly had teed off): "I can't believe you guys missed that wide-assed fairway."
On the 16th (after his approach shot goes approximately 3 feet): "I'm pretty sure when you get dirt on your driver it doesn't go far."
On the 17th (After a lady 100 yards down the fairway waves her white skirt like a bullfighter): "Keep doing that! It gives me something to aim for!"
A couple of groups ahead of Barkley are Ray Romano, Baumgardner and Greg Kinear. As Romano approached the 14th, someone from the gallery yells: "Does Deborah know you're out here?" Romano doesn't miss a beat with replies to that kind of thing these days: "The show was three years ago, sir."
But Barkley's time is now. He's provided a truckload full of fun already, and the weekend has barely begun. Heck, Friday isn't even over: If you're around, come see him belt out some karaoke tonight at Harrah's. It's free, and the night is young.
'The drinks were flowing'
Apparently our hero is serious about his no-gambling pledge. However, it comes with an expiration date of four years. We take you now to our high life correspondents, Angelo Garcia of Oakley, CA, and Scott Waller of Sacramento; two NBA fans who spent most of Thursday night drinking with Sir Charles.
"He was buying drinks for everyone," said Waller of his encounter with Barkley at Harrah's in South Shore. "And when Barkley buys you drinks, he doesn't just wave at the bartender. He actually goes up and collects the drinks and hands them out. He was buying all night."
You have to occupy your time somehow if you're not gambling.
"Charles said he would not gamble for four years," Garcia said. "He's sticking to that, and he brought his family with him to Tahoe to help make sure that he doesn't. That's a strong commitment."
Barkley led a karaoke session with Jerry Rice and Jerome Bettis, with Ray Allen serving as DJ.
"The drinks were flowing, all for free," Waller said. "Tequila Patrones. And beer, of course. He's a great guy."
Since I'm writing on the gold course itself, I have to create makeshift office space wherever I can. Barkley & Co. are on the ninth tee, so I set up shop midway down the fairway, off to the side behind a large bush. I position the laptop to reduce the glare, which positions my back to the golfers.
So I'm typing away, kind of lost in the task, and suddenly I hear a voice from behind. I turn, and there's Barkley, standing over his ball, which has typically landed in the scrub. He's only about 15 yards away, and I'm pretty much right in the line of fire. "Yo dude!" says Barkley to me. He looks at the ball, then looks back at me. "You paying attention?" The gallery laughs. I nod my head yes; for some reason I figure I'd take my chances. Barkley shakes his head. ""You try to sue my ass, remember, I told ya," he said. The gallery breaks up. I'm happy to report that Charles hit one relatively straight this time, and did not kill me. For this I am grateful.
The ninth hole is one of two Edgewood course holes that includes grandstands, and as Barkley's group approaches, the MC announces that this is Charles Barkley Day. The gallery — 400 people or so — all say it in unison: "Happy Charles Barkley Day!" A fitting tribute indeed.
Some may not know that upon his arrival in Tahoe On Wednesday, Barkley donated $100,000 to Angora Fire Relief; a fund dedicated to supporting firefighters and helping families who lost homes in the huge wildfire that swept the hills near Tahoe's west shore last summer. It's a testament to Barkley's nature, and proof that his ties here run deep. "I couldn't come back without coming out and seeing how the rebuilding is progressing," Barkley said. "I had to come out and take some photos and see what was what."
It's a testament to the nature of Barkley's celebrity that one of his most devoted fans is only 13 years old. Arturo Flores of Reno has been following Barkley in this event since the youngster was only 8. Knowing Barkley, it comes as no surprise that such loyalty does not go unnoticed.
Having just finished teeing off on the sixth, Barkley's group heads don the path to the fairway, which is roped off to prevent spectators from impeding the golfers. Arturo is standing at the rop with his mom. Barkley sees him, and extends a giant hand, palming the boy's head. "There's my brothers!" exclaims Barkley. Yes, the two are old pals.
"I come to this tournament every year, and Charles knows me," said Arturo. "He says I'm his good luck charm."
It's scary to think what Charles would shoot without good luck.
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