David Feherty: "I was the Tiger Woods of drinking!"

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From Ryder Cup player and  to the PGA Tour's resident raconteur, David Feherty is one of the most fascinating men in golf. Here he reflects on his life in the game.

It's easy to forget that David Feherty played in perhaps the most famous Ryder Cup of all time. The 63-year-old has spent nearly 25 years entertaining fans from behind the broadcast mic, but there was a time when he was just like the many people he now interviews.

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Prior to becoming one of the biggest personalities in golf, the Northern Irishman spent the best part of two decades competing inside the ropes and played in the same European team as Seve Ballesteros during the 1991 Ryder Cup, beating Payne Stewart in the singles.

David Feherty MIC

By the time he retired at the age of just 38, Feherty had won 10 times, including five titles on the European Tour, and twice finished in the top ten of the European Tour's Order of Merit despite playing hungover for much of it.

"My playing days were awash with partying," says Feherty with piercing honesty. "I knew I wasn't going to be a really, really top echelon player. I played at the highest level and played well at times, but I didn't have the work ethic. It was only when I got into broadcasting that I felt more at home."

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It's because of his work as a commentator and analyst for NBC and now CBS that he is on first name terms with everyone from Tiger and Jack to Rory McIlroy and President Bush. More recently he's earned greater notoriety as an author of several books and the host of Feherty, on which he's interviewed four US Presidents and legends from the world of film and sport. The Emmy-nominated talk show ran for 10 series and 150 episodes on the Golf Channel before it was cancelled last January.

David Feherty

Feherty refers to it as "one of the best trips of his life", though he is still unsure why it was pulled. "Maybe it was just time," he says, shrugging his shoulders. But it's a sign of his popularity that when he's not covering tournaments on the PGA Tour, he's still touring the US with his one-man show, Feherty Off Tour – Wandering Around On His Own, which first debuted in 2014.

As a recovering alcoholic, Feherty remains transparent about his past – "I was the Tiger Woods of drinking" – and often talks about his addiction and depression on stage with his trademark wit and self-deprecating humour.

We sat down with Feherty the day after the Ryder Cup to learn more about his journey from golfer to comedian, what it was like being part of the now infamous 'War on the Shore', and the time he inadvertently played a prank on Tiger Woods...

Feherty's last of five European Tour wins came at the 1992 Madrid Open.

This summer has been a real joy because I got to cover the Ryder Cup. Alongside The Open, it's the best event on the calendar in my opinion. The Ryder Cup has always been special to me, even though I was part of a losing team at Kiawah Island in 1991. Just to be on that side is a giant feather in any player's cap.

That Ryder Cup was probably the first one to really capture the attention of the American golfing public. They really looked at it and thought, Wow, these guys are serious. There was a local DJ who woke us up at 4.30am. I was up already but there were all kinds of hidden messages and stuff going on to try and put the team off. It was chaotic because the crowd was very partisan, but once the golf started it was amazing.

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There was no clubhouse at Kiawah Island, so there was an American trailer and a European trailer in the parking lot. Seve sat down beside me and I remember him saying, 'You shouldn't worry, I'm so nervous as well'. He made me feel like I was part of his team. But then I was drawn with him the next week in the German Open and on the first tee he called me Doug.

One of my best years on tour was probably in 1986. I won twice in a play-off, the Italian Open and Scottish Open. I then promptly lost the Scottish Open trophy which, at the time, was the oldest trophy in professional golf. I took it to a Led Zeppelin concert on the night the tournament finished. I woke up two days later with no memory of the previous 48 hours and no trophy. Nobody had any idea where it was and that was 35 years ago. I don't know if Jimmy Page has it or Robert Plant.

David Feherty was part of the European Team at the infamous 1991 Ryder Cup.

People say I came close to winning The Open but I never really had a realistic chance. I had a chance to finish high and I did. In 1989, I finished sixth at Royal Troon and I remember walking past the yellow scoreboard on the night before the last round. I was in the penultimate group with Mark Calcavecchia, who ended up winning it. His name was up there, spelt correctly, Jodie Mudd, Greg Norman and then my name, Dean Fartery. I remember thinking to myself, Yep, there's your Open champion right there... not!

The Open was my favourite event to play in by far, and the one I always played the best in. I did finish sixth in a PGA Championship, the one John Daly won in 1991. But I only played one Masters. I always regretted that, not going over. It didn't seem that important at the time, which is a ridiculous thing to think now.

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It's been around 25 years since I decided playing golf for a living wasn't such a good idea anymore. I was at a really low point in my life. I was in the middle of a truly bitter tabloid divorce. It was all over the sport pages. I was having an affair with another player's wife, but that particular player had left her for a 17-year-old French girl. So I thought... OK. But I was going through all this crap.

I qualified for the World Series of Golf and they were playing at Firestone. I was at the bar at the Hilton, right opposite the golf course, and I was drinking vodka and Gatorade... because I was still an athlete at this point. These two men started striding towards me. One of them stuck their hand out and said, 'We're from CBS'.

I immediately thought, 'Oh shit, it's 60 minutes or one of those special inquiry programmes on alcoholism and drug addiction on tour'. But they were from CBS Sports and they wanted someone to go down on the ground.

I knew the caddies on both sides of the Atlantic, which was very important, and most of the players. It just so happened that I was the right drunk at the right bar at the right time when that offer came around.

I'm the only broadcaster to do all four Majors on all four (US) networks. The first one was with an ABC affiliate, I think Turner Sports, in Jamaica. Peter Kostis was on there and so was Wayne Riley (Radar), the well-known and highly respected Australian commentator. I was on the ground with this primeval headset which weighed about 17 pounds.

I was standing on a par 3 and Loren Roberts' tee shot landed on the edge of the water – on a coconut – and bounced out onto the green, about 12ft away. I seized this coconut as they were walking up and you could see the dimple marks from the golf ball. I yelled to my producer on my talkback switch and said, "Hey, I've got something here I want to show". I had this mini camera in front of me and started by saying, "I'm standing holding Lauren Roberts' bruised nut... " That's as far as I got before they closed the microphone. Those were some of my first words on television.

David Feherty and Tiger Woods have become friends.

I got assigned to Tiger's group every time he was on our air. We became friends and I got to witness stuff that made me look like an idiot every week. I was an expert until he showed up. He did things that defied imagination for 20 years. I was with him for 50 of his 80-something victories. That was a really special time.

When I think of the greatest shots I've ever seen, Tiger keeps deleting them with shots of his own. Of the top 10 shots, he probably has seven of them. I always go back to the chip-in from behind the 16th green at Augusta, the one which hung on the lip of the hole. The timing of it and the stage it was on made it probably the greatest shot of all time. He was just a different creature.

There's a different side to Tiger the public doesn't see. He's kind of shy and socially awkward at times, but he's a keen practical joker. He's got a great sense of humour, but he's just extremely private. If you're out with him in any open setting, you can understand why. He's still probably the most famous athlete on earth at this point and he's hardly played in the last five years.

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I was responsible for Tiger getting the blame for the most famous televised fart of all time. It was at the Buick Open and he was on his way to winning it. Somebody edited the audio in to make it look like he was on one leg, ripping off a fart. But it wasn't him, it was me. I didn't lie to anybody when the press asked me afterwards. I said it came from behind me, which was perfectly true, but not an admission of guilt.

The video got 1.5 million hits on the PGA Tour website. The following morning they had it taken down so technically, I am the first asshole in the history of sport to be censored.

When I was on the ground at CBS, I had a lot more intimate contact with players but I've been in the tower now for six or seven years. You kind of lose touch especially with some of the younger players now.

I've always had a quite a close relationship with Rory. I was the assistant pro at the golf club Rory grew up at, 20 years before he was born. I was only there about a year but I got to know all the members, his mum and dad, and always took a keen interest in the club and what was happening. He was just special. Not just a special golfer, but a fantastic kid. He was a mother's dream. He and Jordan Spieth are cut from the same cloth. They're two of the nicest boys you will ever meet.

David Feherty Rory McIlroy

I had gone 16 years without swinging a golf club until last week. Tom Watson coaxed me out on the golf course. That was a serious error of judgement. I've no idea where the bottom of my arc is. It was pitiful.

The reason I stopped playing is because I got run over by a truck. It was a truck and bicycle contest in which I came off a distant second. I got crushed all the way down my left side. I broke all my ribs, punctured my left lung and mangled my left arm to the extent that it was touch and go whether I was going to keep the arm for a while.

It was an absolute nightmare. The next time I got on a bike was seven months later and I woke up in a hospital in Dearborn, Michigan, wearing a turban for some reason. They had to drill a hole in my head because I got hit from behind. I now can't close my left hand properly. My pinkie finger and ring finger don't want to close so it's kind of a three finger, left-hand grip now. It's like learning to play golf all over again. It's a humbling experience.

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I got hit once more. I went through a windshield when a lady ran a red light. That was it for me on the bike. That was six or seven years ago and I figured if I got a stationary bike, I'd probably still get hit by a stationary car or a chandelier would fall on me. So, no more bikes.

Having my own show on the Golf Channel was amazing. We did get some really special guests. We had President Clinton, President Bush, President Trump twice and then I interviewed President Obama on the White House lawn. But to be able to meet and make friends which last a lifetime with Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L Jackson and Don Cheadle was an incredible opportunity.

David Feherty speaking.

I was once interviewing Tom Watson for Canadian television, with Jack and Barbara Nicklaus sitting behind us. I asked the first question and he looked at me kind of funny. He put his hands over the lens and said, "You're not well, are you?" And I was not well. I was 70 pounds heavier than I am now, drinking two bottles of whiskey a day, and taking 30 or 40 painkillers a day. I was undiagnosed with any kind of mental illness, but I was in the worst shape of my life.

Tom was like a warm dry hand, reaching into the hole and offering me a way out. I asked how are we going to do that and he said, "Well you've got to go to Kansas with me now". I was backpedalling and then this voice behind said, "You can come with me, I have a G5 (jet)'. So Jack was heckling me while Tom was dragging me to rehab. But Jack and Tom got me back on the straight and narrow.

I've always had an addictive personality. I've got classic attention deficit and I used to feel useless at school. I got into drinking early, like you did in Northern Ireland. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was competing at the highest level, and doing it hungover a lot. I often wonder what my career would look like had I not. But I did play well hungover.

As an alcoholic you never kick the habit. There's no such thing as recovery. You're either drunk or you're not. But I don't suffer from it, I live with it. Thinking I might help someone by speaking about my experiences is therapeutic to me.

David Feherty Seve

A lot of people don't know that I trained as an opera singer. I sang all the solos as a kid in the choir and had a beautiful voice as a boy. When my voice broke, I had to make a decision whether I wanted to be a tenor or a baritone. My music teacher, who was ghastly little Polish lady, made me push a grand piano away from the wall with my stomach muscles. I was only 13 or 14-years-old, weighing about 110 pounds. I did that for about a year with her and then I heard myself. The last thing the world needed was another mediocre, shit-faced Irish tenor, butchering Danny Boy.

The only thing that I could think of to do was to play golf. I was 17 with a five handicap when I turned pro. I had to lie about my handicap to turn pro. It took me three or four years to get my card and then I played through to 1997.

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People would ask me what the difference was between the PGA Tour and European Tour. When I won the Italian Open in 1986, we were playing on an island near Venice and there were no cars allowed because it was so low lying and they didn't want all the vapours going into the sea. They gave us these courtesy cast-iron tricycles and a herd of us would leave for the morning tee times. John Bland, an older South African player, was always at the clubhouse first and no one knew how he was getting there.

Before the last day, Bland was lying third and I was second behind Ballesteros. We found out Bland had been pushing his way through a hedge, cutting across diagonally and coming out right by the clubhouse. There were two concrete bollards he'd been squeezing through, so Derrick Cooper pushed them closer together.

The next morning we pulled into the parking lot and Bland was lying on the ground bleeding from his elbows. He'd gone arse over tit, over the handlebars, because Cooper had booby trapped him. So that's one of the main differences. You don't get courtesy tricycles in the United States.

David Feherty broadcasting from the course for the Golf Channel at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie.

I get a lot of my material from my experiences in golf. One time I was playing with an elderly foursome in a pro-am in the late '70s, at a place in Northern Zambia. We got on the 14th tee and this lady was over her ball when a big red streak appeared on her white blouse. We looked up and there was a lioness in the tree above her, with a dead gazelle with blood streaming out of its mouth. I walked off. Quickly, in front of the old people.

Being on the European Tour was a riot. It was a different country every week and the same bunch of idiots. It was a phenomenal time to be playing. I travelled a lot with Sam Torrance and it was a laugh a minute. He is the hairiest human being you've ever seen in your life. He has hair in places I should never have seen.

He used to roll cigarettes and would set fire to himself frequently. I remember beating the fire off his chest with a towel in Barcelona. He was actually just a walking fire hazard wherever he went so you never felt safe. He could spontaneously combust at any moment.

David Feherty

I'll never forget Tiger Woods and Ernie Els playing the last hole at Firestone. I can't remember what year, but Tiger hit a shot from the left rough. At the time I was standing beside Ernie, who I've known since he was eight-years-old. I was almost leaning on him because I was tired and needed this not to go to a play-off. I couldn't give a shit who wins at this point.

Tiger hit this wedge from 184 yards out of a lie which defied description. It landed like a sack of wet assholes and backed up to about 2ft. I had predicted he was going to hack it out sideways. I turned my microphone on to say something at the exact moment Ernie turned to me and said, "F*ck me!" That was followed by a long silence until my producer said something. But if you wanted an opinion on that shot, you ask the next best player in the world what he thinks.

David Feherty is renowned for his wit and humour when commentating on golf.

From the mouth of Feherty: His most famous quotes

– “The world’s No.1 tennis player spends 90 per cent of his time winning, while the world’s No.1 golfer spends 90 percent of his time losing. Golfers are great losers.”

– “Colin Montgomerie is a few French fries short of a Happy Meal.”

– “Playing Augusta is like playing a Salvador Dali landscape. I expected a clock to fall out of the trees and hit me in the face.”

– “Watching Phil Mickelson play golf is like watching a drunk chasing a balloon near the edge of a cliff.”

– “I lost 150lbs. If you include my wife.”

– “I am sorry Nick Faldo couldn’t be here this week. He is attending the birth of his next wife.”

– “Gary (Player) thinks he invented fitness because he used to do push-ups on the airplane. He’s just upset because you can’t win a Major any more with a low, flat hook and a Napoleon complex.”

– “It’s just a glorious day. The only way to ruin a day like this would be to play golf on it.”

– “Fortunately, he (Rory) is 22 years old so his right wrist should be the strongest muscle in his body.”

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