Hidden Talent Lampooning pomposity and convention with his unrestrained wit, David Feherty, a touring pro turned television analyst, ranks as golf's ultimate wise guy

Aug. 23, 1999
Aug. 23, 1999

Table of Contents
Aug. 23, 1999

Hidden Talent Lampooning pomposity and convention with his unrestrained wit, David Feherty, a touring pro turned television analyst, ranks as golf's ultimate wise guy

Irish character, says Ulsterman David Feherty, is like Irish
weather: Rich in variety, but lacking stamina--it sticks to
nothing for long. When Feherty, golf's greatest Irish character,
was a wee lad of nine, he had just enough stamina to caddie for
his old man at the Bangor Golf Club in County Down. William
Feherty's foursome included his physician, whose advice for the
elder Feherty's insomnia had been, "Play a round in your head."
While walking the fairway at the 4th hole, the doctor asked
William, "Did you sleep any better?"

This is an article from the Aug. 23, 1999 issue Original Layout

"Not really," said William. "I played great until the 3rd tee
shot, which I sliced into the trees. I was awake all night
looking for the ball."

More than three decades later David Feherty gleefully calls this
the defining moment of his life. "I realized that everything my
dad and his friends said was total bull," he says, "and that
there were more important things than sport. That one quip
spurred me on to be a wiseass."

What Feherty defines as wiseass others call a singular genius
for making fun of everything pompous, humorless and boring. In
short, the PGA Tour. Over the last three years this onetime
European tour player has become the most entertaining TV analyst
this side (or maybe the far side) of Bob Newhart. Whereas the
humor of CBS teammate Gary McCord can sound slavishly contrived,
Feherty comes off as unaffected and unrehearsed. "David's an
amoeba," says retired CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian.
"There's form, yet no form. He's so spontaneous that you never
know what's coming next."

A few Fehertyisms that have come and gone: "The only time Nick
Faldo opens his mouth is to change feet."

"On a bad day my swing was like a privy door on a trawler in the
middle of the Atlantic."

"So many born-again players have credited the Lord after
victories that Jack Nicklaus's record for major titles is in
jeopardy. God is already halfway there."

Feherty is shamelessly willing to go in for absolute
nonsense--to not only be utterly silly but also display
outrageously bad taste. Who else can get away with saying a
certain pro "couldn't hit a tile floor with a bladder full of
beer" or likening a ball thwacked off a club face to "hot snot
out of a chrome nostril"?

Feherty's pinball-machine mind lacks an off switch. "David is
the kind of commentator--and it's very, very rare--whom people
will tune in to just to watch," says Rick Gentile, the former
executive producer of CBS Sports, who hired Feherty in 1996.
"Viewers know that even if a tournament isn't compelling, David
will be."

At last week's PGA Championship, Feherty again compelled his way
into the nation's living rooms. CBS bills Feherty as an
on-course reporter, though he prefers the lesser designation of
mobile microphone holder. He'll relay how far a shot has been
hit, describe the lie and identify what club a golfer is using.
"I'm just a fairway creeper trying to stay out of the way," he
says in a voice that doesn't so much speak as croon. "A chimp
could do my job. The network can't find one with a foreign

Off camera Feherty's wit is even more mordant. Among his
dislikes: sweet wines, being away from home, accommodations at
the British Open ("I always get stuck in rooms with nylon sheets
and shiny toilet paper," he says), food that looks up at him
from the table, unplayable lies, the film Striptease, the
actress Sandra Bullock, the actor Tom Arnold and the singer
Mariah Carey ("She sings like a mouse on acid," he says).

Among his likes: Beamish stout, being home, Donegal sunsets,
jalapeno peppers, 10-inch eagle putts, the book Striptease, the
actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, the actor Liam Neeson and the
singer Bob Dylan ("Golf is like a Dylan song," he muses. "You
don't have to understand it to enjoy it").

Golf is something he neither likes nor dislikes. "It falls in
the middle," he says. "I've never had an overwhelming passion
for the game. One of my greatest problems as a player was that I
couldn't be that serious. I was more interested in behaving
badly. All that work and practice is overrated. It occupies a
lot of time that could be spent drinking beer or telling jokes
or laughing good-naturedly at other people's failures."

Generally, the failures Feherty laughs at are his own. He's
exceedingly gracious and good company, with a gift for mimicry
and an undepletable store of anecdotes. He'll rabbit on forever
about his old sports car, a 1990 AC Cobra, a "roller skate with
350 horsepower that spat out unburned fuel on the downshift, was
so percussive that when you turned on the ignition, it would
trigger every car alarm within five miles, and got four miles to
the gallon--on the highway. It's the only car I've ever driven
in which you could watch the fuel gauge moving." Then there's
his former caddie, Rodney, who used to "stay up all night
drinking cleaning products" and the Porsche Feherty totaled at
the 1992 Irish Open when "a wall leapt out in front of me" and
the Senior tour player who "has a recurring nightmare of getting
in a plane crash and having his body found in coach."

Many of Feherty's favorite reminiscences are trotted out in a
monthly column he writes for Golf Magazine. "My literary models
are P.G. Wodehouse, J.P. Donleavy and P.J. O'Rourke," says D.W.
Feherty. Of the three his prose is more P.G.-rated--fluid, stylish
and infused with a Wodehousian sense of the elegant and the
absurd, golf in a nutshell.

In the harbor town of Bangor, near Belfast, sarcasm was a staple
of the Feherty household. David still remembers the night Da
crawled home from a pub and told Ma, "Sorry I'm late, dear. Is my
dinner warm?"

"Yes," she said evenly. "It's in the dog."

David was William and Violet's only son, the middle child of
three. A choirboy at six, he was trained to be an opera singer.
"When I reached puberty, my voice broke," he says. "From then on
I sounded like a baritone held very tightly by the scrotum."
Today he sings just to punish his kids. "It's so much more
effective than spanking."

A Protestant, he mingled with Catholics only when on the links.
"We'd shoot par in the morning and each other at night," he
says. In 1976, with his handicap down to five, the 17-year-old
Feherty quit school and turned pro. As he tells it, the idea
came one day while sitting in geography class. "I figured I'd
learn more about a certain country if I visited it," he says,
"so I went to see the headmaster, and within a few days I was an
assistant pro in England."

During his 20 years as a tour pro Feherty was decent if
unspectacular, winning five events in Europe and 10 worldwide.
His first two victories came in 1986 at the Italian and Scottish
Opens. "It felt pretty weird," he says. "I didn't think I was
that good." He wasn't. Yet in '91 he made the Ryder Cup team
that narrowly lost the War by the Shore at Kiawah Island, S.C.,
and beat Payne Stewart in the singles. "On my first putt
everything moved except my bowels," he says. "It took about four
years to stop shaking."

A few years later, at 36, he moved with his wife and two sons
from Bangor to Dallas. Or, rather, he followed his wife and two
sons to Dallas. She had been unhappy in Northern Ireland, and he
would be equally unhappy in the U.S. He supported his family by
playing on the PGA Tour. In his first year, 1994, he earned
$178,501 and placed 100th on the money list. Then his marriage
and game fell apart simultaneously. His wife left and took the
boys with her. "I was devastated, depressed and broke," he says.
"I spent entire days in bed. The last place I wanted to be was
on a golf course."

His appetite for the game gone, Feherty went on what he called
the divorce diet--coffee, cigarettes, Advil and alcohol. "If it
was under the sink," he says, "I'd drink it." He tried to run
away from his problems, literally, jogging more than 100 miles a
week. "I lost 40 pounds," he says. "A hundred and fifty if you
include my wife."

Feherty's dark night of the soul lasted a year, until he met an
interior decorator named Anita Schneider. "It was a blind date,"
he says. "I was blind drunk." The evening lasted all of half an
hour. A few days later Feherty phoned her, pleading for a second
chance. He got one, at a Texas Rangers game. "I showed up
sober," he says, "and made a better impression." He gave up
smoking, stopped running and remarried in the spring of '96. The
couple's daughter, Erin, was born last summer.

Feherty entered the public consciousness at the 1990 World Cup
in Orlando, where he shot a 63 and famously compared the Grand
Cypress course to one of those hot-air hand dryers found in
public rest rooms: "It's a great idea and everybody uses it
once, but never again. It takes too long." The next year during
the PGA at Crooked Stick, he cracked to a TV interviewer, "This
course is so long that figuring distances on some holes, you
have to reckon in the curvature of the earth."

During the '95 Sprint International, at the height of Feherty's
troubles, McCord invited him up to the CBS booth. Feherty was
still playing competitively, but not competing much. (He
finished the year 166th on the money list, then missed the
four-round cut at Q school a few months later and lost his Tour
card.) McCord asked Feherty if he would consider someday joining
the CBS team, and the next spring, at the '96 Doral-Ryder Open
in Miami, Feherty auditioned with the network. Later that
season, at the PGA in Louisville, he bummed a ride to dinner
with CBS executive producer Lance Barrow. "Tell me," he asked
Barrow, "how much money can I make doing TV full time?"

Barrow told him. "Hmm...sounds O.K.," said Feherty. "When can I

By late December, Feherty had quit playing and had signed a
three-year deal with CBS worth more than $800,000. He made his
first big splash the following February at Pebble Beach,
snagging Tiger Woods after Woods had gambled in the final round
and reached the 18th green with a three-wood. Feherty asked,
"Were you concerned at all by that big blue thing to the left?"
He meant the Pacific Ocean.

Feherty still makes waves. A couple of weeks back at the John
Deere Classic in Coal Valley, Ill., he commentated from a tower
overlooking the 16th green. In heat that would be considered mild
only on Mercury, Feherty kept cool in a maroon polo shirt, khaki
shorts, white socks and Birkenstocks. "There's Fuzzy Zoeller," he
told TV land. "You'd have to assume he's both warm and Fuzzy. He
may just be sticky and Fuzzy, although that's probably an

The camera panned to an enormous tractor near the 11th hole. A
fellow analyst asked, "David, have you ever been on a tractor?"

"No," he replied, "but I've been on a backhoe."


At that moment, a mike at the 16th recorded the loud,
unmistakable sound of what Feherty would later describe as a
"Fuzzy trouser burp." Feherty remained uncharacteristically
silent. "After Fuzzy farted, my train of thought was backhoe,
back passage, backside," he explained. "I was thinking I
probably didn't want to take it any farther. As a broadcasting
sage once told me, 'They'll never criticize you for saying too

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN The Natural CBS has successfully exploited Feherty's spontaneous humor.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Tour of duty Feherty (shown in 1994) was good enough to make a European Ryder Cup team but bombed on the U.S. Tour.COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Tag team Feherty plays well off fellow analyst McCord (right), who first suggested that Feherty's future was in television.
"On my first putt everything moved except my bowels," Feherty
says of the 1991 Ryder Cup. "It took about four years to stop
"I'm a fairway creeper trying to stay out of the way," says
"A chimp could do my job. [CBS] can't find one with a foreign