Golf's Funny Man - David Feherty
David Feherty, golf’s most colorful personality, hits the sweet spot with his off-kilter humor and gift for storytelling at the Kauffman Center Aug. 10.
During the opening sequence of former European Tour golfer and current Golf Channel star David Feherty’s talk show, creatively titled “Feherty,” the show is described as “a nearly original series,” that it’s “almost clever,” “strangely nervous,” and “brilliantly stupid.”
Tongue-in-cheek though it may be, he sells himself short in one regard: Feherty is an original in every sense. His razor-sharp wit, delivered with a Northern Irish lilt, has been a massive hit with audiences ever since he turned in his golf clubs for a microphone at CBS Sports in 1997. He broke the mold for on-course reporting by making hilarious observations instead of just giving us the club and the yardage. In one of many examples, Jim Furyk’s loopy swing once prompted Feherty to quip that it looked like “an octopus falling out of a tree.”
For the last four years, Feherty has taken his show on the road with “Feherty Off Tour” at theaters around the country, and he visits the Muriel Kauffman Theatre in Kansas City on Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m terrified before every show, because it’s just me and a microphone — and a chicken for some unknown reason,” Feherty tells 435. “You’ve got to make them laugh for two hours. It’s a really daunting thought, but once I get on and get going, that sorts of melts away. It’s a tremendously satisfying experience, you know, being able to push myself to do that kind of thing.”
To a certain extent, Feherty is winging it, but there’s a structure to winging it each night. There are stories about his life and his family, and there are other people’s stories from the grand names of golf like Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Feherty’s friend and former CBS colleague, Ken Venturi — “men that we don’t have anymore,” he says, “who told me stories that I can retell and not feel apologetic about it. Because if I don’t tell them, they’ll die. They’ll just disappear into the ether.”
As a preview for what audiences might expect in his “Off Tour” show, Feherty’s affection for Venturi and affection for telling good golf stories intersect. “Kenny didn’t like a lot of people. He liked me, Jim Nantz, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, and a couple of crooked cops in Chicago,” Feherty says. “Kenny didn’t like Arnold Palmer. That’s like not liking the Easter Bunny. But he held that sort of Sicilian grudge.
“Arnold had gotten a drop in the ’59 Masters or something like that when Kenny was an amateur. Arnold clearly shouldn’t have gotten a drop, but it wasn’t Arnold’s fault. He was given it by a referee. You take what you get. But Kenny held that grudge his entire life.
“He was a tremendous storyteller. I tell Kenny’s stories about back in the days of black and white, when cigarettes were good for you. These guys like Hogan and [Sam] Snead and Jimmy Demaret, they were driving across America with their clubs in the trunk. I would ask Kenny to tell these stories in front of people. I would’ve heard them 50 times, but I would ask him to tell them just so I could see other people’s reaction to them. I adored Kenny. He was my hero. I loved him very much.”
It's easy to forget that Feherty was a decent player in his own right, winning five times on the European Tour between 1986 and 1992. He played his way on to the 1991 Ryder Cup team, matches so infamous at Kiawah Island in South Carolina that it has been dubbed the “War on the Shore.”
“It deleted any other tension in my professional career. It was amazing,” he recalls. “I remember actually rolling into Charleston on a Concorde, and sitting beside my friend Sam Torrance, who I would end up playing two matches with. I couldn’t believe the amount of people that were lining the perimeter of the airport. They were hanging off the fences. It sort of gave me the first inkling of how big this contest was.
“I said to Sam, ‘I can’t believe all these people have shown up here to meet us.’ He said, ‘They’re here to see the f---in’ plane, you idiot.’ And they were, because it wasn’t often the Concorde rolled in at Charleston International Airport. That was my initiation into the Ryder Cup atmosphere.”
The intensity of the matches, played just months after the Gulf War, was almost stifling. And Feherty was right in the middle of it. Even if one of the volunteers didn’t recognize him when he beat the late Payne Stewart, the pride of Springfield, Missouri, in singles.
“That’s probably the best round of golf I ever played, against one of my best friends. He was something else,” Feherty says. “There was a moment I was 4 up with 4 to play but I lost 15 and 16 and went into full code-brown panic. The crowd control had broken down between 16 and 17 tee, and I was fighting my way through there with my caddie in front of me, kind of drafting behind him.
“Both sides of the crowds were chaotic, and a lady marshal jumped in front of me and poked me in the chest with her ‘quiet please’ sign and said, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ I’m not a heavily-disguised spectator here. I was about to go bat-s--t crazy with this woman when this arm came around my neck. And Payne put his cheek against mine, smiling that idiot choir-boy grin that he had, and he said, ‘Ma’am, I’d love to keep this a--hole here, but he’s playing against me.’ And he kind of swept me up on to the tee with his arm around me, and I can still smell the Red Man from the plug that he had in.
“That’s who he was, you know. That’s what you want from your opponent in the Ryder Cup, if you were a couple down with two to play, you’d want them to be upset like that. But Payne didn’t see it that way. There’s a hole in the game where he used to be.”
In one of the more emotional “Feherty” episodes with Kansas City legend Tom Watson, he tells the story about how Watson knew that he wasn’t well. Feherty’s struggles with drugs and alcohol are well-documented, and he’s been very open about the destructive path he was on. In 2006, at an event in Prince Edward Island in Canada, Watson saw something was off and staged an impromptu intervention.
When Feherty asked Watson how he knew, Watson said, “I can see it in your eyes.” “What do you see?” Feherty asked him. And Watson said, “My reflection.”
Using Jack Nicklaus’ private jet, Feherty flew to Kansas City to get help with Watson by his side. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Watson saved his life.
This is his first ever show here, but the significance that Kansas City has for Feherty personally is undeniable.
“I have a lot of friends in Kansas City because of that relationship with Tom and our shared experiences,” Feherty says. “I’m very fond of Kansas City. And as a result, I think the show is pretty much sold out. So yeah, it’s a special place to me because of that, the Overland Park area in particular.”
Catch David Feherty as he helps call the action at the 147thOpen Championship for Golf Channel and NBC Sports July 19-22. “Feherty” airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. on Golf Channel.