Chef Mario Batali leaves kitchen for the greens

Sat, Mar 24

When celebrated chef Mario Batali got the call from the Golf Channel asking him whether he wanted to join the fourth season of "The Haney Project," his decision didn't require much thought.

"It took me less than one tenth of one second to say absolutely," Batali said.

Batali, a culinary connoisseur, restaurateur, author, and television personality, is one of the stars featured in the fourth season of the series. It follows Batali, singer Adam Levine, super model Angie Everhart and legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, as they are coached by Hank Haney over eight weeks. The show culminates with a golf showdown where each student of Haney competes for $100,000 toward the charity of their choice.

Previous seasons of "The Haney Project" focused on just one celebrity. Those featured included actor Ray Romano, political commentator Rush Limbaugh and most famously -- and hilariously  Charles Barkley. This season's competitive format ads an element of drama for both the viewer and the celebrity student. And for those students, getting lessons by one of the greatest golf coaches alive is a priceless gift. Haney was Tiger Woods' swing coach from 2004-10 and recently wrote "The Big Miss", the controversial book detailing his association with Woods.

Batali said he and the other contestants were given a preview of "The Big Miss," set for release Tuesday, from the author himself. "Hank is a remarkable and incredible guy," Haney said. "He read us a couple chapters and I have to say, as gifted as he is as a coach, he's a really good writer with a really good perspective."

But it was Haney's coaching that left the greatest impact on Batali.

"I had a swing that looked a little bit like a pretzel," said Batali, who has been playing golf casually since college (Rutgers University) and charmed Haney with his Zen-like attitude and comedic enthusiasm. "I think the idea for me in golf was to try to clear out the thoughts of what I was trying to achieve and more naturally find some kind of a calm place. Hank has subsequently told me it's better to actually envision where your shot might be going. I didn't have a very good swing and Hank has done a good job at improving it."

During the upcoming episode featuring Batali, set to air on the Golf Channel Monday at 9 p.m., Batali brings Haney to his turf, where the golf expert gets a better understanding of the ginger-haired and bubbly chef.

"Most of my life is spent in small, very brightly lit rooms with ovens cranking at 550 to 575 degrees," explained Mario, who chose The Mario Batali Foundation for his charity of choice. "You don't even see what it's like outside, let alone in the restaurant itself. Golf courses are generally pretty beautiful parks. Just having that free air feel of not being in a crowded room is remarkably beautiful."