Is Charles Barkley Really That Bad A Golfer? Is Hank Haney Really That Bad A Teacher?

Watching a re-run of the Golf Channel’s Hank Haney series on trying to fix Charles Barkley’s grotesque golf swing, when it turned out Haney had been unable to fix the world’s worst swing-hitch.  One thing stood out,  just after a couple sequences when Barkley was finally hitting it great and it was starting to look like maybe the standard Haney swing (one-size-fits-all) might actually cure Barkley’s hitch.  They wrenched Barkley away from the practice range to play a live round of golf with Julius Erving, and the swing broke down and Barkley reverted to the dreaded hitch.  Series over.  Haney fails.

During the leadup to the Erving match, Haney is shown on camera, several times, telling the audience and Barkley, with great emphasis:  “the problem is not in his (Barkley’s) head, it is in his swing!”  In other words, if Barkley would simply take the club back in the manner that Haney was instructing him to do, he would be in such a good position that his downswing would not be interrupted by the hitch.  Haney makes this same statement at least 3 different times, in my recollection.   And then, when Barkley finally starts falling apart during the Erving match, Haney runs out of patience and resorts to telling Barkley, essentially, that Barkely is screwing up because he is not trying hard enough – Haney keeps saying, ‘don’t drop your head’ [that is the initial move that leads inevitably to the hitch], as though that would be a simple thing for Barkley to do, if only he would try a little harder.  This is one of the greatest athletes, and one of the dozen or so best basketball players, of all time, and his golf coach is telling him he is lacking in powers of concentration.  Give me a break.

To me, that one segment of the show captured the essence of bad instruction.  Any fool (even this writer) could easily determine that Barkley’s backswing is not very good, that he takes the club back inside and then raises up and then the clubshaft ends up pointing well right of the target line, so his brain knows he cannot possibly get back down on a decent plane.  Indeed, the “good” Barkley takes a backswing that, by means of the ‘take-it-back outside’ trick, does indeed end up with him in a good position, from which he proceeds to hit it long and straight.  The problem is that Barkley, under pressure, is unable to execute the ‘good’ backswing, even though he knows exactly what he should do on the backswing, and Haney could scream at him for another $100,000 worth of lessons and he still not be able to ditch the hitch.

If Haney were as good as he is supposed to be, he would have skipped the part about having Barkley hit 1,000 balls a day trying to drill the new swing into his head, and would have focused instead upon trying to figure out what kind of mental/physical tricks (otherwise known as “swing thoughts”) that Barkley could utilize in order to get his body to put itself, and the club, into the desired positions.  In other words, go through the teacher’s giant bag of tricks, trying to locate the one trick (or combination of tricks) that Barkley suddenly finds it easy to remember and execute and that has the effect of getting himself into a position that he cannot get into by merely trying to get there.  This writer does not know very many such tricks, he just knows that in his own case, it involves a lengthy trial-&-error process of experimenting with setup, posture, grip, images of the path of the clubshaft or the clubhead, swinging with the torso rather than the hands, delaying the wristcock until the torso rotation has already gotten the shaft high enough up that the clubhead gets lighter, keeping the arms extended fully throughout the swing so as to keep the arc wide and constant, imagining that  the wrists do not pronate or supinate in relation to the torso but only in relation to the address position, etc, etc, etc.  Finally, some combination emerges that, for me and me alone, makes the swing something I can do effortlessly and smoothly and without conscious manipulation, and puts  my club and me into a position that I could not possibly have achieved by merely concentrating on getting there directly and without the various tricks and thoughts.  And then I repeat that swing and try to build it in, and come back the next day and see which elements remained in place overnight and which ones turned out to be mere tricks rather than sound corrections.   My bet is, this whole concept is totally foreign to Haney.  Very discouraging to watch.

Of course it is also theoretically possible that Barkley could execute the “good” Barkley swing any time he wanted to, and that the whole thing is just a set-up because Barkley loves the attention he gets for being such a crappy golfer but such a nice and patient and funny guy.  And that Haney is a much better instructor than he appears to be.

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