My life is a very noisy place. Restaurants are noisy. Kitchens are noisy. The city of New York is noisy. It's a kind of white noise that I don't really hear after awhile, until I get out on a golf course, and suddenly it's quiet.
"That's one of the things I love about golf. The silence, the birds, the talking to someone who's near you in your normal voice, as opposed to yelling. That's a beautiful thing.
"I grew up in Seattle. My dad was a Boeing engineer, and golf became his leisure when I was in my early teens. I would go with him and swing the club, but nothing serious. I was into playing football and baseball and driving my bike through the dirt. We lived in a very suburban, almost forested area. There was a country club, but we weren't members. That was 'the other side of the tracks.' My father was working so much, he didn't get to play often, but I think he was probably breaking eighty-five.
"Then, when I was fifteen, we moved to Spain. Golf in Spain at that time was not something you did regularly. We didn't have access to the course at the American base because my father worked for Boeing as a private contractor, not as part of the military. So I didn't get to play at all.
"We got to Spain the month Franco died. It was just a spectacular time to be there for someone like me, who had grown up in a relatively apathetic political situation, apart from Nixon and Watergate. Now I was meeting fifteen-year-old kids who belonged to one of seven different socialist parties, each with its own ideology. It was fascinating. It was juicy. I liked that.
"I played some golf in college, but not much. I picked it up again when I moved to Florida in 1984. I had finished, not really graduated from, the Cordon Bleu cooking school in London. I went to work with someone I'd met there who lived in Tampa, and he and his buddies were all golfers. They got me some clubs, and we'd play two or three rounds a week.
"They were very encouraging to me, and confidence is half the game. 'That was a nice swing,' they'd say. 'Too bad you shanked it.' Although I never got really good, I worked at it a lot and truly enjoyed myself. Florida was also where I first saw fancy courses, big places like Sawgrass, with the island green. Absolutely beautiful golf.
"These days I don't get to play enough. I'm not lucky yet. I'll get there. I've been very lucky on many levels, just not in the frequency of my golf.
"Unlike all the other things I do, in golf you are on your own. It's a very Zen kind of freedom for someone whose days are as tightly scheduled as mine. I recently ordered a lightweight carry bag, because I like the idea of walking. You go directly to your ball, you have all your clubs with you, it's a more organic feel.
"I'm taking lessons. I had a baseball grip; now I have an overlap. I feel very confident about my putting and my short- and midirons. Off the tee and my long irons are my problem. I can drive it 240, 250 yards, but playing from underneath the trees on my second shot every time really challenges my score.
"Golf is like cooking in that you have to deal daily with variations in things that may or may not be under your control. Like when an artichoke comes in one day and it's a lot different than the one that came in the day before. But you can see that, and you're able to deal with it right on the spot, whereas in golf, sometimes you don't know that you should have adjusted something until after you've made the swing.
"It's easy to train people to cook pretty darn well, but I don't think it's easy to train people to play golf pretty darn well. There are fewer muscles to move when you're shaking a sauté pan than when you're swinging a golf club. Muscle memory is like palate memory, like teaching people to understand and remember their wine tastes. It's very complicated. "What I really want to do is break eighty-five. Then I'd feel like I'm playing the game. Not that I'm embarrassed out there. It's just that it would be more fun to be better."
Batali Serves One Up
ANALYSIS BY CLAUDE HARMON III
Mario has his ball a little too far back in his stance. This is causing his weight to be too much on his left side at address. He makes a nice shoulder turn off the ball; his wrists are hinging the club up and he looks solid halfway back. But because his weight started left at address, at the top we see his right knee locking and his weight staying on his left side. His hips have turned too much. Halfway down, his hips are sliding into impact instead of turning, which causes him to lose a lot of power. Both heels are off the ground, and he is using his hands and arms a lot, which isn't a very appetizing idea. Mario finishes in a well-balanced position. With an improved setup he would be able to load up better on his backswing and turn those hips.
Scorecard MARIO BATALI
HANDICAP "I'd guess 21 or 22."
FAVORITE COURSES Pebble Beach, CA; The Links at Spanish Bay, CA; Alpine Country Club, NJ; Mahogany Run, St. Thomas, USVI; Roaring Fork Club, CO
RESTAURANTS Babbo, Bar Jamon, Casa Mono, Esca, Lupa, Otto (all in New York City)
COOKBOOKS The Babbo Cookbook; Simple Italian Food; Mario Batali Holiday Food; Molto Italiano: Simple Classic Italian Recipes to Cook at Home (Harper Collins, 2005)
TV SHOWS Iron Chef America; Molto Mario; Mario Eats Italy; Ciao America
EQUIPMENT Ping G2 irons and fairway woods, TaylorMade driver, Callaway putter