May 8, 2011
By Fuzzy Zoeller, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Last Wednesday at the Regions Tradition, I had the opportunity to play with basketball legend Charles Barkley. I’ve known Charles for a long time, and I figure I’ve played golf with him at least 15 times. So I know all about Charles and his swing.
When it comes to Charles and his driver, he has two swings. There’s the practice swing, which is a beautiful thing. Then he tees the ball up in front of him and a monster comes out. Yes, he has some issues with the golf swing. But when he swings with his wedges or his 9-iron, he’s fine. But you put a long club in his hand and this monster comes out. So I feel for him because he wants to hit it well. Regardless, Charles is a great guy, and I love playing with him.
Wednesday, on the first tee of the pro-am, Charles stepped to the tee. Now I try to always follow the ball of the amateurs I’m playing with. It helps if a second set of eyes are watching where the ball goes, and I do that to help keep the pace of play up. This time, though, I didn’t follow the ball. I couldn’t. Instead, I saw something else flying down the fairway—and it wasn’t a ball. It was head of Charles’ Nike driver, which, incidentally, went farther than his ball.
The crowd was laughing, and Charles looked stunned as he stood there with just the shaft and nothing on the end. I’m not sure he immediately knew what happened. It was a clean break. I’m not sure how it occurred, but it wasn’t because of solid contact with the ball. I know that.
The shot was just one of those crazy things that happens. If you play this game long enough, it will happen to all of us.
I grabbed the shaft from Charles, stuck it in the ground and told him he now had himself a walking stick. Luckily, Bo Jackson was there on the tee. And he came over and handed Charles an extra driver. I think the new club had six degrees of loft, which is not nearly enough for Charlie. But he tried to hit it for the rest of the round, and I give him credit. Fortunately, he didn’t break that one, and it made it through the entire round.
I walked down and found the driver head and yelled back to him, “Are you playing a black Nike?”
The great thing is after I handed the head to him, he autographed it. I suggested that he should auction it for charity, and that’s exactly what’s happened. The folks from the Champions Tour put the autographed head on eBay, with all the proceeds from the auction going to help the people affected by the tornado that hit not far from where we played this week.
I’ve driven around and seen some of the damage from the tornadoes of April 27. Mother Nature can be very, very wicked at times. But the great thing about the people here in Alabama is you haven’t heard any complaints from them; they have just tightened up that belt and, by golly, they’re getting there and getting things cleaned up. Hopefully this auction and other things the PGA TOUR and Champions Tour is doing, along with cash donations, will help alleviate some of the suffering that is going on in this state.
That’s the great thing about our Tour. I know many players came here this week with bags of clothing they want to donate to people who have been left homeless. I play on a Tour with some very giving people. And occasionally, I play in pro-ams with guys who don’t hit their drives very well.
In this case, Charles, I’m grateful for that.
Editor’s Note: Fuzzy Zoeller joined the PGA TOUR in 1974 and is a 10-time TOUR winner, adding two additional Champions Tour victories after turning 50. Three of those wins came in majors, at the 1979 Masters, the 1984 U.S. Open and the 2002 Senior PGA Championship. Zoeller is the long-time host of his own charity golf tournament, The Wolf Challenge, in his native Indiana.
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