Editor's note: As David Feherty's new show debuts on the Golf Channel, Fairways + Greens looks at golf's clown prince through this August 2005 cover story, with an interview conducted just before the Byron Nelson Championship in May of that year. Vic Williams spent several hours with Feherty to get great insight into what makes the Irish dervish tick.
HE’S GOT THE PLUCK OF THE IRISH, A COUPLE OF SHOTGUNS AND AN OPERA HABIT. IS DAVID FEHERTY THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN GOLF JOURNALISM?
It’s a Tuesday morning in Texas, and David Feherty is lounging in his underpants.
Check that. He was lounging in his favorite article of clothing not an hour ago, at his home outside Dallas. The EDT Byron Nelson Championship — a rare home game for the peripatetic CBS color commentator — was still two days away, and there wasn’t a damn thing on his schedule. He had the entire morning to hang out and scratch himself. Then he got a phone call: He was due to shoot a commercial for PeakVision golf sunglasses at the new TPC at Craig Ranch at 8 a.m., and where the hell was he?
“I though it was tomorrow,” Feherty says in his lilting, somewhat quizzical, always-on-the-brink-of-a-joke Irish brogue, when he shows up around 10. “My wife is in Las Vegas looking at toilets, and I thought I had the morning off.”
Looking at toilets? What’s that all about? Is it just another example of Feherty’s penchant for potty humor, which shows up so often in his columns for Golf Magazine that it borders on pathological?
“My wife is at a toilet convention. She’s a designer and we’re building a house, so …”
So, the clown prince of golf commentary (the king would be Gary McCord, Feherty’s sort-of mentor and CBS foil) had the day off. Then he didn’t.
Feherty would be the first to admit he’s a world-class slacker, but he also likes to get paid. So he jumped out of favorite chair at home and got on the ball, and now here he is — cleaned up, coiffed and 50 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. His trim appearance somewhat startles PGA Tour veterans Scott McCarron and Billy Andrade, both of whom are on hand to shoot their own PeakVision segments. “Look at him, he’s got no butt,” McCarron remarks as Feherty takes his place before the cameras for the first up umpteen takes. “He looks great.”
He should. Feherty is clean and sober for going on nine months now after three decades being, as he calls it, “the Tiger Woods of drinking.” He’s the No. 1 pitchman for Cobra drivers (“Nice ball!”), perhaps the most popular member of CBS’ esteemed broadcast team and the author of four books — the latest of which, a second collection of columns called “An Idiot for All Seasons,” hits shelves in August. He has five kids and a loving marriage to his second wife, Anita, to whom he (playfully?) refers to as The One Who Must Be Obeyed. He cobbled together a decent professional golf career, amassing 10 wins worldwide and a berth on the 1991 European Ryder Cup team as a foot soldier in the famous “War By the Shore” at Kiawah Island, won by the Americans thanks to Bernhard Langer’s epochal missed putt. He plays almost no golf these days, and that’s just fine. Overall he just might be the happiest ex-tour pro alive.
He’s certainly the funniest, and one of the smartest. Spend two hours with David Feherty, as we did in the simmering mid-spring heat of north Texas, and you’ll realize there’s a lot more to this Gaelic goofball than arched eyebrows and wily witticisms. Or is that half-witticisms?
BOTTLE BE GONE
Though he looks and feels great (other than a cranky back), it’s clear Feherty somehow misses the epic hangovers that accompanied many an early tee time during his career as a player in the ’80s and early ’90s. He quit drinking on doctor’s orders — or maybe it was Anita’s orders — and he’s still getting used to seeing the world in a frighteningly clear way.
“It never really affected by work or my home life much, although [not drinking] helps now,” Feherty says. “I’m thinking of writing a book, ‘While I Was Gone.’ They’ve sent my liver to Cooperstown.”
Feherty makes frequent light of his penchant for strong spirits in his in his new book. For instance, there’s the time he captained the Irish team to victory in the Dunhill Cup, on the Old Course at St. Andrews, despite a wailing brain pain. In the final match he found himself two down to Englishman Howard Clark. Two grizzled Scottish caddies — one wearing a battered tweed jacket worn shiny on one shoulder, the other “with a face like a half-chewed caramel” — emerged from the crowd proffering a flask of locally brewed whiskey. At the crowd’s urging Feherty took a swig and, six nearly unconscious holes later, found himself in a playoff, where he hit the shot of his life on the famous Road Hole, 15 feet from the cup. “Two putts from there, and I had won the Dunhill Cup for Ireland,” he writes. “They gave each of us a nice trophy, and I remember filling it with something special and passing it around in the lobby of the Old Course Hotel.”
Those were the days, but they’re gone, at least for the foreseeable future. To Feherty, it was either give up the sauce or write an early epitaph.
“I’m the poster child for excess,” he says. I was probably legally drunk since I was 25 years old, but I was so spectacularly good at it that nobody noticed.
“A bottle and a half of Bushmills is roughly what I would drink each day, and I wouldn’t even start to see any difference until the second bottle. I thought, ‘This is way too easy, it’s not a challenge anymore.’”
Hence the weight loss back to his PGA Tour guide level of around 175 pounds, thanks to exercise, diet and a new and improved kind of chemical interaction.
“So now I’m on all these medications,” he says. I call them reverse ’roids — they make you smaller and weaker, but on the plus side, my testicles are gigantic.”
BREAKING THE UMBILICAL MCCORD
When Feherty quit competitive golf in 1997, CBS signed him for good, and suddenly McCord — their resident off-the-cuff badboy and the only announcer in memory to be permanently banned from the Masters broadcast — had a counterpart from across the pond. Feherty is every bit McCord’s equal in the bon mot department, working from his perch on the 16th hole during the first two rounds of each tournament, then from ground zero on the weekends, when he follows the leaders. He peppers his voice-overs with playful yet trenchant observations and Irish-flavored turns of phrase. If there’s a script he ignores it, and most days he finds his headset only seconds before the red light comes on. If he’s off-camera and the weather is warm, he works in shorts, barefoot.
Feherty and McCord are a potent team, offsetting the more traditional, serious deliveries of fellow gabsmiths Jim Nantz, Lanny Wadkins, Peter Oosterhuis, Peter Kostis and Bobby Clampett. Yes, they’re smartasses, and yes, they’re great at blowing out golf’s self-important cobwebs with their irreverent banter. They’re both authors and sought-after speakers. They might even be friends, though Feherty would probably deny it. They’re never on camera together and, insists Feherty, never tee it up together. They did, however, both lend their voices to last year’s version of the Tiger Woods video game. In all, McCord is not so much Feherty’s mentor but door-opener. Now Feherty sticks with his McCord-bashing shtick.
“It’s like being handcuffed to a chimp. You never know where he’s going, or where he’s been. If he could talk through his ears, he may never stop,” Feherty says. “And his shoes are unbelievable. He’s like Imelda Marcos. He’s just not right.”
What is right is the chemistry of CBS’s current team. “We’re all different. The thing about this kind of ensemble at CBS is that it doesn’t go just through one person, one star, one personality all the time. It goes through all of them — seven guys sitting around feeding each other lines. We can’t be that loose, obviously, but sometimes we get out there.”
Feherty still misses one of his personal broadcasting heroes, Pat Summerall, who fought a few drinking demons of his own. And it’s taken Wadkins all of his two years as Nantz’s sidekick to fill Ken Venturi’s shoes [Ed. Note: Wadkins has since been replaced by Nick Faldo]. “He’s a great guy,” Feherty says of Wadkins, who’s sometimes seen as a hard-ass, maybe even more so than Johnny Miller over at NBC. “He’s no harder on anybody else than he was on himself. That’s just the way he’s always seen it. He’s the last guy I’d want to play on the Ryder Cup. He might have the third-best record of all time. He’s finally getting to a position where he’s getting comfortable, and that’s hard, especially on 18.”
Back to McCord for a moment: Does Feherty ever give the Mustachioed One the business about “bikini waxing” his way out of Augusta National?
“No, but we did win the Emmy for best live sports event. So I left him a voicemail. ‘Hey, Gary, we won the Emmy for the Masters. We couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, no, wait! We did!’”
As for Feherty himself, some viewers think he’s becoming too “American” in his delivery and sensibilities, but that opinion doesn’t wash. He’s still Irish through and through; just read one of his columns, which can’t hold a literary candle to Joyce, Yeats or Shaw, but sometimes display the richness of language (including generous pepperings of profanity) and sonorous cadence of the best Irish writers. Feherty figures the brand of English written and spoken on the Emerald Isle simply hasn’t suffered as much modern trauma. Somehow that tradition survives in his own twisted, ribald prose.
“If you go to Europe, you turn your watch ahead six hours. If you go to Ireland you have to turn it back 50 years,” he says. “There are fewer televisions. The art of conversation is still very important, even if you’re a stranger. You walk into a pub, and chances are within five minutes somebody will know somebody who knows you. It’s just a much more old-fashioned attitude toward life in general. It’s a different place. People go to play golf in Scotland and have a great time, but almost everyone says that Ireland is totally different. Even though the golf courses are similar, the atmospheres aren’t.”
Feherty gets home as much as he can to play his favorite courses — Royal County Down, Portrush, Portmarnock and Ross’s Point. He also retains some of the non-golf loves he picked up as a kid in the seaside town of Bangor, Northern Ireland. He’s still a monster opera fan, for instance, and once dreamed of becoming a singer. That went by the boards when he found out he could whack a golf ball better than he could wail an aria.
“I listen to a lot of it, though. It’s in my truck at the moment,” he says. “I look like a concrete cowboy, with a big ass Ford F-150 with a manly toolbox, and opera coming out of it. People look at me like, ‘What the f--- is wrong with him!’ I’ll pull up into a parking lot with the windows down, and Anna Netrebko is singing really loud — because opera is enormously loud. People think rock was the first loud music. But when you’re singing with a 104-piece orchestra, it raises the hair on my arms more than any other music. I love it.”
Though there’s not a lot of opera on the Dallas radio dial, Feherty chose to live there because, one, he didn’t want to uproot his kids, and two, it’s centrally located — he can be on either coast in three hours or less. Of course, as an adopted Texan he’s found a passion to match that for golf, or opera.
“Shotguns — since I moved to Texas I’m just obsessed with small gauge shotguns, 410s, 20-gauge. It’s a great country.”
Feherty thought about moving further West at one point, most likely to Arizona — home to his favorite West Coast Swing event.
“I like Phoenix; it’s always a great crowd and great atmosphere. I’ve been soaked a couple of times [with beer on the 16th hole]. Those are my people. I can’t complain about that, you know. That’s my demographic.”
RYDER CUP RIFFING
Though Feherty came close to stroke play immortality at the 1989 British Open, where he found himself in the final pairing with eventual champion Mark Calcavecchia and finished tied for sixth with Fred Couples, his career high point came two years later at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. His performance wasn’t the stuff of legend — he and Sam Torrance lost to Wadkins and Hale Irwin in morning foursomes, 4&2, and he beat the late Payne Stewart 2&1 in Sunday singles. But the experience rekindled his love for the game and spurred him to become a Ryder Cup expert of sorts. He even wrote his own irreverent “guide” to the matches a couple of years ago, and it’s quite an impressive tome even with the odd fart joke.
Ask Feherty to name his strongest personal memory from the War By the Shore, and it’s not Langer’s blown putt, which handed America their first victory since 1983, 14 ½-13 ½.
“My favorite memory of that week was between holes 16 and 17 on Sunday,” he says. “I had been four up against Payne, but I’d lost two holes in a row. I was having an anxiety attack. Walking from the 16 green to the 17 tee, there was big lady marshal who jumped out in front of me. I was trying to fight my way through the crowd; it was a maelstrom, chaos, screaming and yelling. I was upset with myself, very angry. Payne was the U.S. Open champion that year. He’d been portrayed as being mean-spirited; he was anything but that. He was one of the Americans who really ‘got’ the Ryder Cup, really understood what it was about.
“This lady stopped me and said, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ I was about to lose my mind. He’s two down against me. He puts his face right up against mind — I can still smell the Red Man — and he said, ‘Ma’am, I’d love you to hold him here, but he’s playing against me.’ And he just swept me up on the tee with his arm around me. Then the bastard hit a 3-wood on the green.
“He didn’t need to do that. He saw me bein’ treated badly at that stage, but it’s a Ryder Cup! You know, ‘F--- him, leave him there, let him get pissed off! That’s exactly what I need.’ But that’s not the way Payne worked.
“That’s my favorite memory — that and Lawrence Levy, the great photographer who’s dead now, saying to me, just before Bernhard Langer took the putter back, ‘You know, the last time a German was under this kind of pressure, he shot himself in a bunker.’ Still the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever heard on a golf course.”
Nearly 15 years later, Feherty thinks he knows why Europe is on such a Ryder Cup roll and why they so thoroughly waxed the U.S. at Oakland Hills last September.
“I think the American team is still suffering from Brookline [in 1999], and the way they were portrayed by the media in the months running up to that event. [Mark] O’Meara started the money thing. They wanted the money — what was it, a hundred grand each? — so they could give it to their own charities. It’s not like they wanted it for themselves. But the press just jumped on it, portrayed them as being ugly and greedy, they didn’t like each other and didn’t care about the Ryder Cup. And then we had this amazing Sunday afternoon. I was on the wrong end of it; nobody wanted the Europeans to win more than I did. But I can still be objective enough to know that was one of the great afternoons in the history of the Ryder Cup. It’s absolutely amazing what happened. With all the criticism those players had taken, I think their reaction when Justin knocked that putt in what more of a knee-jerk: ‘Up yours, you a--holes! Do we look like a team now? Do we look like we care about the Ryder Cup? Do we look like we care about each other?
“But no one ever reported, or said, ‘Sorry boys, we were wrong about you.’ And that perception is lingering still — that they’re spoiled and don’t care about each other. They do. The main problem with the American Ryder Cup team, to me, is the American golfing public and media will not allow them to be underdogs. They’ve lost seven out of the last ten — how many do they have to lose? But you wait and see: It’ll be the same in 2006 at the K Club. They’ll be ranked higher in the world, so they must be favorites. Bulls---! You can’t rank players against each other who don’t play against each other regularly. So whoever’s playing Colin Montgomerie, who was ranked No. 62 in the world at the time, tell them he’s 62 while he’s kicking their ass.”
That brings up another point: Has Monty now passed Nick Faldo as the top European Ryder Cupper?
“I believe he’s the greatest Ryder Cup player who ever lived. He gets such a friggin’ tilt in his kilt that week. He’s just up for it.
“Oosterhuis is another great example of that. He’s won more singles matches than anyone in history, and that was when we were getting our arses kicked. He is a hell of a player. He came close in a couple of majors. He won the money title four years in a row in Europe. He should be Ryder Cup captain at some stage, but he won’t be, because he lives here.”
LIGHTENING UP THE TOUR
Feherty obviously takes the Ryder Cup seriously; on that score he’s European all the way. But as he sprawls out on a grassy knoll next to Craig Ranch’s putting green, hands behind his head, cracking jokes in full repose, he quickly gets back to his main professional goal: To knock the stodgy Tours and their denizens down a few pegs. Or at least get them laughing. And over the years he’s had a few helpers out there in the trenches, guys who aren’t afraid to some emotion beyond the garden-variety fist-pump.
“I love Lumpy [Tim Herron],” he says. “And Stadler, I miss him being around, because he was such a grumpy guy. And I miss Payne. We didn’t spend much time together, but he would always find me whenever I was playing in the same event, or I would find him when he would come over to play. I miss him a lot. He was the evil bastard; he always needed to be one up.
“He put a groundhog in my room once. He thought it was dead; he’d run over it with his courtesy car. He’d stolen my key card; he was always stealing people’s cards and messing with their room. I came back to the hotel at La Quinta and threw my bag down in the corner of the room. I was sweaty and pissed off from missing the cut, and this groundhog lunged for my ’nads from underneath the bed. I jumped on to the furniture and bounced around the room. Tore 18 inches of sheetrock out with the electric cord from the lamp. After about 10 seconds, this thing is rabid, it’s furious, and it’s wearing a pair of my underpants. Payne had put my underpants on a groundhog, thinkin’ it was dead, but it came to, and by the time I got there it had torn my room apart. I never got to pay him back.
“Payne had the face of a choirboy. ‘What, me? You’ve got the wrong guy!’ And he was so good at it.”
Stewart was also good at getting, shall we say, fiery in the heat of battle, and Feherty applauds him for that, too.
“I would like to see a little more emotion, as far as losing their tempers,” he says of today’s players. “I’d like to see worse behavior in golf. They behave so damn well, there’s a little leeway there. If someone whacks a club, or takes out a tee marker, or throws their bag in a lake … this game drives the average person mental, and I think it’s great television when you do see it. Pat Perez on the 18th tee, digging it up at Pebble Beach. It’s basically a shrine, where every golfer wants to be, and there he is — Cursing, taking lumps off the tee while the sun shimmers off the Pacific behind him. My God! It was just so incongruous, it was brilliant.”
So there we have it: David Feherty thinks there’s a place for club slammers and jokesters in the wonderful world of golf. We’ve known that all along — we live it every time we tee it up — but to hear it from a fellow knucklehead who gets to say what we feel, live on TV, and get paid for it … well, it’s cool to have his approval.