For most of us working stiffs, going on a corporate outing is like being fed intravenously: You never taste anything, but eventually you feel a kind of ghostly satiation. But if you're a golf nut, the chance to schmooze with a fairway legend can turn just another company retreat into something as memorable as your first eagle. Many pros make a tidy living by spending their Mondays and Tuesdays mixing businesspeople with the game of golf. The work is easy, the pay borders on the obscene. You blow into town in the morning, give a clinic and, in the afternoon, play a hole or two with each group. If the guest list is too big, you camp out at a par-3 and hit tee shots with every foursome that comes through. You wrap things up by mingling at a cocktail party and handing out booby prizes at a dinner, after which you regale people with tales of Arnold and Jack and Tiger. If you're a hit, everyone goes home inspired and maybe shaves a stroke or two off his handicap, thanks to your clinic. ¬∂ The original King of Corporate Outings is Dave Stockton, winner of the 1970 and '76 PGA Championships. Before scaling back his schedule a decade ago, he used to appear at more than 90 outings in some years, reportedly earning in excess of $600,000 annually in ancillary loot. A sober speaker, Stockton expounds on the minutiae of the sport.
The reigning clown prince of the corporate grind is David Feherty, the gently subversive CBS golf commentator. His all-day deal features photo ops, benign dish on Tour players and an inexhaustible fund of gratuitous insults. "I basically get paid to be a smart-a-- show-off," says the onetime Ryder Cup player. "Golfers think that if I rip their game, it goes to a higher level. Well, maybe. It still looks pretty low to me." For such bunker sniping Feherty gets from $20,000 to $25,000 a day, plus expenses.
He plays about two dozen corporate gigs a year. "I'm really only a B-list celebrity," says the 46-year-old Irishman. "No one knows what I look like. I'm just a voice." A relaxed, unpretentious, word-caressing voice that flows over listeners like an eruption in a caramel factory. "You know why I like talking to corporate America?" he purrs. "It looks good on a parole application."
Early one recent morning Feherty left home, family and parole board behind in Dallas to attend an outing at the Golf Club of Amelia Island, in Florida. He'd been hired by a security outfit that manufactures MACE and body armor. In the baggage area at the Jacksonville airport Feherty's face is glazed with the unmistakable blankness that occurs when one week's company retreat blends with the previous week's. He's puzzled by the absence of a limo driver brandishing a sign with his name--or a semblance of it.
July 31, 2005
He ticks off about a dozen of the variations he has sighted in the mitts of limo drivers: FEHERITY, FERRITY, FEHRRITY, FLAHERTY, FLERITY. ¬†"It gets closer and closer to O'Fleritty, the original Gaelic," he says. "I don't know how that transformed into Feherty--some ancestor must have married a Protestant or slept with a sheep."
Most business people who meet Feherty conclude, fairly quickly, that he is mad. "In reality, I'm not," he says. "In reality, I'm a miserable bastard, but people actually seem to enjoy that."
In truth, Feherty is friendly, approachable, a mischievous soul who delights in the company of others and in all things scatological. On this particular morning, standing on a putting green surrounded by 52 MACE-makers, he watches a hacker popcorn a tee shot into deep rough. "That drive was like a giraffe's a--," he says. "High and smelly."
He's wearing a short-sleeved shirt, green linen slacks and two-toned golf shoes. "Isn't this the sort of lovely morning that makes you glad to be alive?" asks Feherty. "The only way you could ruin a day like today is to play golf on it."
It's hard to imagine anyone disliking Feherty, but two years ago a woman did slug him at an outing in Wisconsin. "This lady took exception to me taking exception to Martha Burk's crusade against the men-only policy at Augusta," he says. "I told the lady I would have hit her back, but I didn't want my a-- kicked. She was not only bigger than me, but on the Anheuser side of Busch."
A doughy duffer asks, "Did the punch hurt your game?"
"If I'd had a game," says Feherty, "it certainly would have."
Feherty takes a half-dozen chip shots to the 18th hole, about 60 yards away. The last one lands about two feet from the flag.
"You look great," says a security guy.
"Thank you," says Feherty. "You're a very attractive man yourself."
Stockton, the corporate king, preaches the heavy-mental game. Feherty comes off as more of a hacker's kindred spirit. "Ninety percent of the time this game is a nightmare; you're either topping the ball or sending it into the trees," he says. "But the feeling you get after hitting a shot right is the closest you can get to a sporting orgasm."
He imparts a few words of wisdom about shanking ("the easiest shot to hit by accident and the hardest to hit on purpose") and the sand wedge. "You may think I'm going to change your game," he tells the throng, "but it's more likely I'll simply screw it up. No matter what I show you, by the time I'm done, you're still going to suck."
THE FAIRWAY MINGLE
Given three hours to mix with 13 groups of golfers, Feherty wheels around the course as if he were in the last lap of the Indy 500 time trials. "I've done 32 groups over this amount of time," he says. "I felt as if I was in a drive-by. After a while you run out of cheerfulness and your attitude turns to pure evil. It's like, Just write the check!"
For now Feherty is brimming with bonhomie. A man in a shirt that seems cut from an early Cubist canvas asks him for his opinion of on-air sidekick Gary McCord. "It's like working with a chimp," he says, then tries to soften the blow. "I mean, a chimp that plays golf very well."
Feherty takes wicked pleasure in knocking others. "I can't affect anybody's game, really," he says. "I mean, not on one hole. I'm not going to significantly affect anybody's life, so I might as well screw with them. I love watching people suffer, as long as they don't get hurt. Badly."
Today's golfers are suffering, all right. The fairways are abuzz with banana balls and bladed shots and chili dips. "Let's see what you've got," Feherty tells a man so large that he has his own field of gravity.
Gravity Man whiffs.
"Not much," says Feherty.
Gravity Man whiffs again. "I'm terrible," he says.
"Don't talk yourself down," Feherty says in a soothing tone. "That's my job."
He pulls up beside a threesome whose mouths are only slightly filthier than their FootJoys. One tells a joke about a pedophile; the second, a prisoner; the third, Brad Pitt. Feherty tops them all with one about two Irishmen and a sausage.
Just as he's about to drive off, his cellphone rings. "Honey, I parked my truck at the airport," Feherty says. "Sorry I didn't say goodbye before I left.... I didn't want to wake you.... I love you, too." He hangs up. "In case you were wondering," he tells the jokers, "that was McCord."
THE COCKTAIL HOUR
It's said that a life of complete self-indulgence, if led with the whole heart, may also bring wisdom. Feherty, whose beverage of choice has always been Bushmills Irish Whiskey, found the palace of wisdom a chilly place. He quit drinking--cold turkey--in January. "I'd become a bloated half-man, half-mattress," he tells a woman at the courtyard reception. "My kids actually used me as furniture."
Nonetheless, the reputation of hell-raiser clings to him like a fly to butter. When offered a highball, he politely declines. "It's amazing what happens when you're sober at midnight," he explains. "You go to bed."
Unlike most recovering lushes, he steadfastly refuses to repent his former ways. On the contrary, he remembers them with huge affection. "I was the Tiger Woods of drinking--I consumed a bottle and a half a day," he tells a member of the catering crew. "My liver was so shot that I actually asked Pat Summerall for his old one."
Did you ever think of getting help?
"No, I could drink it all by myself." Ba-da-boom.
After turning down liquor for an hour, he tries a different tack. "Actually, I'm on reverse 'roids," he tells a well-oiled guest. "I bulked down and lost 50 pounds. On the bright side, my testicles are huge."
DINNER AND SPEECH
Feherty has a rule about food at outings: If it looks like it should be in a Kleenex, he won't eat it. He doesn't touch his crab cake.
As dessert is served, he's called to the podium to hand out prizes for the most balls lost, the coldest putter and the longest club toss. He retells the joke about the two Irishmen and the sausage. He trots out stories about the notoriously tight Nick Faldo ("He wakes up in the middle of the night to make sure he hasn't lost any sleep"), slow-witted broadcaster Bobby Clampett ("I told Bobby, 'Never start a sentence with 'Lannie, I think ... '--because you don't") and Woods ("Will Tiger ever smile again? I imagine he does every night.")
He rules the room for a good 30 minutes and steps off to loud applause. Gravity Man shouts, "I want to be you when I grow up."
Feherty shakes his head. "If you grow up," he says, "you can't be me."
Corporate outings are nice work, if you can get it. Here's a sampling of what pros can command (plus expenses) for a day-long personal appearance, according to a prominent players' representative.
Tiger Woods $1 million--plus
Phil Mickelson $250,000
Jack Nicklaus $250,000
Vijay Singh $150,000
Justin Leonard $50,000
Annika Sorenstam $50,000
Gary McCord $40,000
Brad Faxon $30,000
Corey Pavin $25,000
Zach Johnson $20,000
Michelle McGann $15,000
PGA Tour rookie $5,000
"I basically get paid to be a smart-a-- show-off," says Feherty. "Golfers think that IF I RIP THEIR GAME, IT GOES TO A HIGHER LEVEL. Well, maybe. It still looks pretty low to me."