Charles Barkley's golf swing is hardly classic. By comparison, Shaquille O'Neal has excellent form at the foul line. But for the past few months, the former Sixers great and TNT analyst has been working with Hank Haney, who also works with Tiger Woods, on the Golf Channel series "The Haney Project." In mid-July, Barkley will unveil that new and hopefully improved game on NBC's American Century Championship, a celebrity event that he has played in a dozen times.

So what will America see? Well, Sir Charles isn't predicting greatness. Or anything close. But he does think he'll play better than he has in years. At the very least, he'll have a good time, which is mostly the point. He appreciates the fact that a lot of people are pulling for him.

"I've got to admit I'm really shocked, traveling around the country, how many people really want to see me do well," Barkley said yesterday on a conference call. "The No. 1 comment I got was, 'I can't believe a guy of your magnitude would put himself on the line like that.' That was really the nicest compliment. They were surprised that someone at my level of success would basically put himself in a situation where you can be humiliated on a weekly basis. I got more golf tips than any person in the world. Everyone wants me to try something. [Even] the little old lady walking across the street. It's hilarious.

"It's been one of the great experiences of my life, to be honest. When you think about it, when does a regular hack like me ever get a chance to be with someone like Hank for extended periods of time? I love it. He was with me 100 percent of the time, which surprised me, because it took 2 days to film one episode. And we were on the driving range from 9 in the morning 'til 6 or 7 that night . . .

"I'll tell you what, I've got a greater appreciation for pro golfers now. I don't think there's any other sport where you can hit a minimum of 1,000 balls a day and not get better quicker, if you understand what I'm saying. If you took 1,000 shots a day, you'd see more improvement at a faster pace. It's really a hard game. But I have an idea of what I'm trying to do. Can I do it [yet]? No, but at least I have an idea."

So, what does Haney think?

"It's a big hill to climb, no doubt about it," he said. "His game was in a bad way. But I never had a student who worked as hard as Charles. The only one that works harder is Tiger. He's improved a lot. He has to take it to the course still. That's an issue. He can do it. It's just hard. It's not easy to change. But he loves to play, and golf loves him. Who else had 4 million people go on YouTube to wach his swing? That was pretty neat to see.

"He might even surprise a few people."

And if he doesn't?

"Man, I've got a great life," Barkley insisted. "If the only thing bad about my life is I [stink] at golf, the other 99.9 percent of my life's pretty damned good.

"Like I tell people, it ain't going to change your life. [Ultimately] nobody cares how you play. It's all about having fun."

And few do that any better. Stay tuned. *