Most golfers don't get to golf as much as they would like, and neither does Mario Batali. With 16 restaurants and a weekday food talk show ("The Chew," airing on ABC Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. ET), the chef is lucky to work in a round of golf every couple weeks or so, which is actually an improvement.
"I used to play maybe three or four times a year, but now it's maybe 20 or 30 times a year," he told SportsAndFood.com. "[My schedule is] tighter than I'd like it, but you can always squeeze in a little time for golf, especially if you go really early in the morning."
He finds golf provides him with a chance to be outside in a wide-open space, quite a ways away from the nearest group of people. If that doesn't sound like something terribly exciting, you have probably never worked in the restaurant business, a field where people will volunteer to take out the garbage just for 90 seconds of fresh air and peace.
Batali has been golfing since his college days (his two favorite courses are Manitou Passage near Traverse City, Mich., and New Jersey's Bayonne Golf Club) and has a tremendous respect for the game. "It's much easier to cook something than it is to get a really good golf swing," he said. To that end, the chef recently started stepping up his game. He is one of four celebrities appearing this season on The Golf Channel's "The Haney Project" (airing Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET), where he gets to work with Hank Haney, Tiger Woods' former swing coach.
"I felt like I could improve if I got some instruction that could remove some of my bad habits and replace them with good ones," he said.
So far, Batali has enjoyed working with Haney, whom he describes as "focused and fun." "My biggest problem was that I dragged [the club] along the ground in kind of a roundabout way and then would come up and over inside out, which created a giant slice. Hank has said that's probably the problem with 80 percent of American golfers."
Haney's advice for Batali, which will also work for you if you're part of that 80 percent, is simple. "He taught me how to bring it back in a different way," he said. "When I bring it down, as opposed to trying to swing it in a loop, it's more like trying to swing it, if you can imagine a baseball swing, trying to hit it to right field and blast it out a little bit."
Is it working?
"I have seen radical improvement. Even America’s worst golfers like me have the chance of some improvement. I've probably added 25 or 30 yards to my drive just because it no longer slides out to the right and eventually starts turning sideways. It's about putting as much energy as possible into moving the ball forward as opposed to a right-to-left move."
Batali will get a chance to measure his improvement against his co-stars: boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine and model Angie Everhart. The one who shows the most improvement from beginning to end will win $100,000 for a charity of his or her choice. "I've met my competitors, and they're both funny and fierce," he said.
With March Madness upon us, we couldn't resist the chance to ask Batali if had filled out a bracket. "I'm filling one out this afternoon with my kids after they get home from school. They often have a better understanding of the teams I haven't heard of or the teams I should have heard of," he said.
When it comes to what you should eat while you're watching the games, he has a definite opinion: "Buy raw stuff and cook it at home, as opposed to bring it home already cooked. You'll save money, it'll be healthier, and it'll be tastier. Even something as simple as wings: Getting fresh wings, then marinating them overnight, then baking them in a really hot oven and tossing them with your favorite hot sauce, that's already better than the ones you're going to buy at a fast-food restaurant."