Scorecard From The Edge
Continued (page 2 of 3)
Though he never won the British Open, he had chances at Troon (1989) and Turnberry ('94). And in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, he finished T-7, eight strokes behind surprise winner John Daly. "I was one of those players who didn't want the responsibility that comes with winning a major," he says. "There was always one pivotal moment on the back nine when I messed up. I lacked the mental capacity to go all the way. I found comfort in mediocrity. It's something I picked up as a kid."
Feherty grew up in the harbor town of Bangor, near Belfast. The middle child of three, he trained to be an opera singer. But at 12 his voice broke and from then on he says he "sounded like a baritone held very tightly by the scrotum." He was a product of the Irish Protestant ascendancy, with its respect for education, good manners and civilized comforts. His father, Billy, worked as a surveyor around the Belfast docks. His mother, Violet, was once the personal secretary of Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marchioness of Londonderry, an influential society hostess. Curt and chilly -- "She's 83 and still hasn't ever told me that she loves me" -- Mum could type at a pace of 160 words a minute. "She never used Wite-Out," says David. "Then again, in those days Wite-Out didn't exist."
What's your favorite memory from childhood?
The smell of Irish whiskey and the rasp of the stubble on my dad's chin as he kissed me good night.
Vi's splendid penmanship inspired her only son to write. Later in life, Feherty's own pen proved a far more potent instrument than his unwieldy 5-iron. His first book, the comic golf novel A Nasty Bit of Rough, was an instant hit. Its hero, Major General (Ret.) Sir Richard Gussett, sets his sights on the game's most prestigious prize, the petrified middle finger of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Feherty's follow-up was a wayward history of the Ryder Cup. Then came his idiot trilogy: Somewhere in Ireland A Village is Missing an Idiot, An Idiot for All Seasons and The Power of Positive Idiocy, anthologies culled mostly from columns he wrote for Golf Magazine.
How complicated is Feherty's life? To quote Jeremy Irons in the film "Reversal of Fortune," "You have no idea." It may help to know that Feherty's favorite work of art is a sketch by the quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan. Hanging from the doorknob at the entrance to a psychiatric ward is a sign that reads: DO NOT DISTURB ANY FURTHER. Mental illness doesn't run in Feherty's family, it gallops. His father has Alzheimer's. His maternal grandfather was struck dumb during World War I. A brother-in-law hung himself.
Feherty says that though he drank heavily from about 16, his melancholia didn't flower for another 20 years. The tipping point: He had reluctantly moved with his first wife, a warm-weather loving South African, and two sons from Bangor to Dallas. He supported his family by playing on the PGA Tour. In his rookie year, 1994, he earned $178,501 and placed 100th on the money list. "All of a sudden," he says, "my game and marriage disintegrated simultaneously." His wife dumped him and took the boys with her.
For various reasons, it was often difficult for Feherty to hang out with his kids. (Shey, now 24, works for a trucking company; Rory is 21 and in ROTC at UT San Antonio -- he wants to be an Army Ranger.) "I feel bad about how little time I was able to spend with them as they grew up," he says. "They both get it now, and appreciate the fact I always told them the truth."
Feherty doesn't just want to be good, he wants to be seen as good.
What would the opening line of your autobiography be?
I wish I'd known it would turn out like this.
The breakup left Feherty broke and devastated. As a golfer he had all the traits that spell success: brains, of course, but also discipline, balance and, above all, focus. Now the last three of these characteristics had deserted him. He finished the 1995 campaign 166th on the money list, then missed the four-round cut at Q school and lost his tour card. He spent entire days in bed, buried in gloom.
His "divorce diet" was coffee, cigarettes and Advil -- and alcohol. His capacity for Bushmills Irish Whiskey was prodigious. He tried to run away from his problems, literally, jogging 70 miles a week. "I lost 40 pounds," he says. "A hundred and fifty if you include my wife." The dark clouds lifted when he met an interior decorator named Anita Schneider, who had two boys of her own. Having blown their first date -- "on the blind date I was blind drunk" -- Feherty won her over on the second. He gave up smoking, stopped running and remarried in the spring of '96. The couple's daughter, Erin, was born two years later, and in 1999 they were granted custody of Feherty's sons.
Even with his life back on track, Feherty has continued to battle despair. He had many of the worst physical symptoms of chronic alcoholism -- he had DTs, both the delirium (hallucinating things) and the tremens (uncontrollable shakes). "I had all the humiliations that come with being a lush," he says. "I wet myself. I vomited on people. The most destructive part was the self-loathing and the fear -- a lot of being drunk is about always being terrified."
He went on the wagon a half-dozen times, sometimes cold turkey. In 2006, with the help of fellow sufferer Tom Watson, he sobered up. Feherty says he hasn't touched a drop since. Is he ever tempted to drink again? "There's no such thing as a recovering alcoholic," he says. "You're either drunk or not drunk. My alcoholism is out there at the moment doing pushups."
Feherty replaced drinking with cycling, only to get in three serious road accidents. The most life-threatening occurred in 2008, about a mile from his North Dallas home. "I got flattened by a tractor-trailer that tried to overtake me on a stretch of road where there was no room," he says. "I was knocked flying up the road, after which the driver ran over me, crushing my left arm." He also broke three ribs and punctured a lung.
"Imagine that!" Feherty says, sighing softly. "I've thrice been hospitalized after being struck by motorized vehicles. I can't even classify the mishaps as accidents anymore. At this point, they're more like hobbies." Has he ever considered changing to a stationary bike? "Then I'd probably get hit by a stationary truck."
If you could be any animal, what would it be?
With my luck, extinct.
No longer able to fully straighten his left arm, Feherty has given up golf. And yet he makes more money now from equipment endorsements than he did at any point in his playing career. "People ask me how I can stay current with the game if I don't play," he says. "I ask them when was the last time John Madden was tackled?"
Like Madden, Feherty seems born to the medium Norman Mailer once called a "small, modest malignancy, wicked and bristling with dots." Since his very first TV commentating gig for CBS at the 1996 Sprint International, Feherty has separated himself from the pack by gently ridiculing convention and pomposity. "The tour is very overprotective about its brand and the image of golf as a respectable sport," he offers. "No criminals. No gay players." Feherty refuses to play along.