Ron Agostini

Agostini on Golf: Barkley’s swing adds to the celebrity fun at Tahoe

Charles Barkley is listed at 5,000-1 to win the 26th American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. And no one cares.

His attempts to conquer the game have inspired a television series and more than a few jokes. If you’ve seen his futile attempts to swing the club, you would understand. The former NBA star and current TNT basketball analyst can’t hit the ball beyond his shadow.

That said, Barkley might be the most popular of the 86 celebrities who will gather at scenic Edgewood Tahoe for the annual tournament, again to be televised by NBC, from July 17-19. He’s quick to laugh at himself and almost never turns down an autograph request. What’s not to like about Sir Charles, other than his reluctant approval of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors?

His week at Tahoe, by the way, will end his summer fun. He’ll undergo hip replacement surgery a few days after the tournament.

“The doctor says, ‘You’re going to do this thing right after the season.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, I’m not missing Tahoe,’” he said during a media conference last month. “I’m going to be laid up for the rest of the summer.”

Which means Barkley, as usual, will be the life of the party on the course and probably in the casinos. His presence almost guarantees a good time for all who plan their summer around this hard-to-miss celebrity-watching week. Indeed, the event long surpassed the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as a golf and celebrity magnet.

Start with the entries from the football world: defending champion Mark Rypien (he also won the inaugural tournament in 1990), John Elway, Marcus Allen, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Wes Welker, Steve Spurrier and Herm Edwards.

Former baseball players include Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Kevin Millar, David Justice, Kenny Lofton, Greg Maddux, Vince Coleman and eight-time champion Rick Rhoden.

The Warriors will be represented by coach Steve Kerr, though former participant Steph Curry won’t play this year. His wife, Ayesha, is expecting their second child the week of the tournament.

From hockey come Mike Modano, Joe Sakic, Martin Brodeur, Jeremy Roenick and “Miracle On Ice” hero Mike Eruzione. Also, there will be skiing champion Bode Miller, speedskating icon Dan Jansen and tennis star Mardy Fish.

Film, television and comedy stars in the field are Anthony Anderson (ABC’s hit comedy “Black-ish”), Brian Baumgartner (“The Office”), Oliver Hudson (“Nashville”), Dennis Haysbert, Willie Robertson (“Duck Dynasty”), Larry the Cable Guy and comedian Kevin Nealon.

First-time entries are led by Grammy Award winner Justin Timberlake, model Kim Alexis, former NFL star Hines Ward, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, NBC football analyst Cris Collinsworth and Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly.

ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, who’s finished in the top 10 eight times, admires Barkley for just being there.

“I got a lot of voices in my head yelling at me all the time (in golf). I can’t imagine the voices he has in his head to create that move,” Dilfer said. “So it’s tough to watch when you see him on the range hitting it so well and he goes out there and it’s a struggle.”

Dilfer, the former Fresno State star who guided the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in the 2000 season, thinks football safety will mandate a new era. He should know after his 14 concussions over his long career.

“I think (football) will move to a non-contact sport during the week at the high school and college, maybe the pro level, where they won’t allow any contact during the week,” Dilfer said. “I think there are a lot of companies that are bracing for that, developing gear around those types of practice habits. ... It’s not the big-blow hits that you see in the secondary; it’s the interior linemen that are banging heads on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at practice. If you can eliminate those, I think the game gets better.”

Many valley fans make the annual trip and join the 40,000 spectators who line fairways and beaches and watch aboard speed boats, sailboats and chartered yachts along the Tahoe shoreline.

As for Barkley, he’s planning on a lot of fun, if not many good shots.

“His ability to engage with fans, have fun with them, make this a great experience for everybody involved,” Dilfer said. “There’s just nobody like him. I can see why he’s the fan favorite here in Tahoe and pretty much everywhere he goes.”

The Shag Bag – Discount tickets for the American Century tournament are available at Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill stores. Visit www.TahoeCelebrityGolf.com ... Modesto-raised Tim Sands, head pro at Stockton’s Brookside CC, and Atwater-raised Ryan Lancaster were part of the winning foursome for the second straight year in the Northern California PGA Scramble Championship. They shot 20-under-par 52 at Somersett CC, a Tom Kite design, in Reno. ... Coming up: The Oakdale CC Rotary Junior Classic on Monday, and the George Maroney Junior on July 15-16 at Dryden Park and Creekside.

Holes in one – Joan Wahl, Modesto, 100-yard second at Del Rio CC (River), 4-hybrid. ... Mabel Wong, Oakdale, 96-yard first at Kanawha Club, Manakin-Sabot, Va. (during The First Tee Par-3 Championship), pitching wedge.

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