Friday, May 12, 2023

Books: "Feherty" By John Feinstein


Feherty: The Remarkably Funny and Tragic Journey of Golf's David Feherty

By John Feinstein

Hachette Books; hardcover, 272 pages; $30

David Feherty is one of the most compelling figures in the golf world, instantly recognizable from broadcasting tournaments and his talk show, and renowned author John Feinstein has delivered his definitive biography, which will give you a greater appreciation for how he got here.

Feinstein has written forty-five books, and has known Feherty since he was working on his landmark book on golf, A Good Walk Spoiled. He also is a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

This is a very complex story, which starts with Feinstein documenting how he went from being an excellent player who won five times in Europe and was on the 1991 Ryder Cup team, to being an ambassador for golf who hobnobs with Presidents. There also is another side to Feherty, of a lifelong underdog has overcome many difficult experiences, including his struggles with alcoholism, the death of his son due to addiction, and the highs and lows of his marriages.

Feherty grew up in Northern Ireland during "the Troubles," which centered on tensions between the Catholics and Protestants, as well as whether the country should remain a part of the United Kingdom. He likens it to Kenneth Branagh's autobiographical film, Belfast, which came out in 2021, with the only difference, Feherty says, being that his family stayed.

Feherty's golf career began in the early 1980s, and the stories that flow from his career on the European Tour are fascinating. In 1986, he earned his second career victory, at the Scottish Open at Haggs Castle Golf Club in Glasgow, in which he beat another player who became a big announcer, Ian Baker-Finch. Feherty has a faint memory of partying with members of Led Zeppelin that Sunday night, and everything following that was a blur until the group's manager, Peter Grant, woke him up with a walking stick two days later.

That win began an ascent for Feherty, as he finished 19th on the money list in 1986, and then he dropped off a bit the following two years before winning the BMW Championship in 1989, a top event in Europe, and rose to 10th on the money list that year. 

In 1990, Feherty didn't win, but he finished second three times and third once, which helped him move to eighth on the money list. He also captained Ireland's Dunhill Cup team that fall. The Dunhill Cup began in 1985 and it consisted of sixteen three-man teams representing their countries and was played on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The following year, Feherty was on the European Ryder Cup team, and he became best friends with Seve Ballesteros, who Feinstein writes, thought his name was Doug. Europe lost the so-called War by the Shore, but Feherty kept his momentum going, as he finished tied for sixth in the PGA Championship, which earned him a spot in The Masters in April 1992.

Feinstein does an excellent job throughout the book of showing how, just when one part of Feherty's life is on the rise, he faces adversity elsewhere. As he reached his peak ranking in 1992, he was using golf and alcohol to escape the "hostage situation" of his marriage.

In August 1993, he came home from playing the German Open and found a note from his wife Caroline saying she wanted a divorce. It not only was the end of his marriage, but the start of the end of his golf career. 

By this point, Feherty pivoted to the PGA Tour and moved to Dallas, where Caroline and their two boys, Shey and Rory, lived. Even though he had won five tournaments in Europe and been on the Ryder Cup team, it meant nothing as he had to go to the PGA Tour Qualifying School, which Feinstein provides a couple of fun anecdotes about. He played all three stages and achieved full status on the tour in 1994.

By 1995, his divorce with Caroline was secure, and David had a two-bedroom apartment with his sons. Soon after the divorce was final, he began proposing to Anita, who had been traveling with him whenever he went to play in Europe, and she finally accepted when he returned home from a trip to South Africa. They were married on May 31, 1996, and have been together ever since.

Around this time, Feherty found his next path, in essence, by virtue of his personality. 

CBS had just dismissed longtime announcer Ben Wright, who had been working golf tournaments for CBS since 1972, after he made some impolitic comments about women's golf. At that time, each network that covered golf had a “British voice,” and Wright served that role on CBS' coverage. 

Gary McCord found his replacement by accident - as he was looking for players to interview during a rain delay in the first round of the 1995 International when he heard uproarious laughter as Feherty was holding court in the locker room.

McCord gave Feherty, who was likely to miss the cut, the chance to join the broadcast the next day, and Feherty accepted the offer. As Feinstein chronicles, CBS' golf coverage was in a bit of flux at that time, as Jim Nantz had just taken over coverage at the tower at the 18th hole after Pat Summerall went to Fox after they snagged the NFL from CBS, and there was a lot of turnover behind the scenes as well.

Nantz had a big vote in having Feherty join the broadcasts as an on-course reporter, and he also had a good influence on the rapport of everyone involved in the production.

Feherty always wanted to do a talk show, and when those efforts proved futile at CBS, Golf Channel gave him the opportunity to host an interview show, simply titled Feherty. This took him to a new level of fame because he interviewed people from many different walks of life, meaning there were plenty of viewers who were not just golf fans.

Feinstein writes that this show, in which he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, had him transcend his sport in terms of celebrity, something only Howard Cosell and John Madden were able to pull off.

Eventually, Feherty left CBS for NBC (which shares the same owner as the Golf Channel) in 2014, and he moved up from the ground to the tower, which he now admits was a mistake, as it took him away from what was going on with the players. Last year, he accepted a generous offer from Greg Norman to be an announcer on the broadcasts of his nascent LIV Golf tour, and as is the case with Feherty, he is quite open that it was about the money, that the offer dwarfed what he was making with NBC.

Feinstein also captured something about Feherty that makes him unique, in this excerpt: "Everyone who has ever known him has a story about David's generosity. Here's one of mine. In 2005, Tom Watson and I started a golf tournament named after Bruce Edwards, Watson's longtime caddie and close friend who had also been a close friend of mine. I had, in fact, written a book about Bruce and Tom titled Caddy for Life, while Bruce was dying of ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease). There were two reasons for founding the event: one was to raise money for ALS research; the other was to keep Bruce alive in the minds and hearts of all of us who had known him.

In 2006, Watson and Feherty had become close friends, in large part because Watson had gone out of his way to help David deal with his alcoholism. By then, David had become a TV star, working for CBS, but he was still fighting a losing battle with his addictions. The first two dinner speakers at the Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic were Mike Krzyzewski and Dick Vitale. Both were terrific, but neither had known Bruce. In the fall of 2007, I wanted a speaker who had actually known Bruce.

Feherty was a perfect fit. He'd known Bruce well; they had spent many a night drinking together. I asked him if he would come and speak, and he instantly said yes. He told stories about Bruce and brought tears to a lot of eyes. And, not surprisingly, before he was done, he left the audience laughing so hard that some literally fell out of their chairs.

One of those who loved Feherty's talk was Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens. When David finished, Bisciotti said to me, 'If you can get him to come and speak in my box to all my friends next season before one of our games, I'll give the charity an extra $50,000.'

That was a lot of money. I asked Feherty if he'd be willing to do it. 'An extra 50K for the charity?' he said. 'Of course, I'll do it.'

And so, the following September, he flew into Baltimore from Dallas on a Sunday morning and I picked him up at the airport. As we drove to the stadium, I said, 'Before I forget, give me your plane ticket receipt so I can have the charity reimburse you for it.'

It was the least I could do; he was giving up a Sunday at home with his family to fly round-trip from Dallas to Baltimore and back to entertain Bisciotti's friends in order to help raise serious money for our cause.

Feherty looked at me like I had just landed from the moon. 'What are you talking about?' he said. 'I can pay for my plane ticket.'

'No,' Feherty said firmly. 'Now, tell me more about the people I'll be speaking to today.'

For the record, Feherty raised more than $50,000 that day because when he was finished, a number of Bisciotti's friends asked me how they could donate to the charity.

The day also produced one of his more memorable lines. Nick Faldo - excuse me, Sir Nick Faldo - had become famous for his relationships with women who were considerably younger than he was at that point in his life.

Feherty shook his head sadly that afternoon and said there was bad news within the European Ryder Cup team, which Faldo was scheduled to captain in Louisville the next week. 'Turns out Nick is going to have to leave early,' he said. 'He's going to need to fly home to London to be present at the birth of his next wife.'

It took a split second for the group to get the joke. When they did, they laughed so hard and so long I thought we were all going to miss kickoff.

'Was I OK?' David asked me when he finished.

That might have been the funniest thing he said all day. David Feherty is always OK - way beyond OK - but wonders every single day if he will be OK that day or that night. I told David at one point that the hardest thing about researching this book was finding anyone who had anything critical to say about him."

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