“I’ve never been sure about the whole drug-testing aspect of the Olympics,” says David Feherty, 57. A former European Tour player from Northern Ireland. Whose training regimen once included weed, cocaine and a daily dose of 40 Vicodin and two and a half bottles of whiskey. “If they come up with a drug that helps you play golf better, I am going to be so pissed – I looked for that for years.”
Feherty is a smart, funny, wild card whose cult celebrity is transcending the sport in the staid world of pro golf.
He covers PGA tournaments while describing a player as having “a face like a warthog stung by a wasp” on live TV. Does standup, writes bestselling novels and hosts a Golf Channel show where he gets guests like Bill Clinton and Larry David to open up about their games and lives.
Feherty’s secret? Sober since 2005, he’s now got nothing to hide. “One of the advantages of having a fucked-up life is that other people are more comfortable telling you about theirs,” he says. “I see from a different side of the street than most people.”
Born on the outskirts of Belfast, Feherty turned pro at 18 and quickly embraced the European Tour’s hard-living lifestyle. In 1986, after winning the Scottish Open in Glasgow, he went on a bender and awoke two days later on a putting green 150 miles away. Alongside Led Zeppelin’s road manager, with no recollection of getting there or what happened to his silver trophy.
Once while playing in the Swedish Open, he went out for a drink and arose the next day in Denmark. “After that, I always kept $600 in my wallet,” he says, “because that’s exactly what it cost me to get back to the golf club just in time to miss my starting time.”
After a middling pro career, he became a PGA Tour commentator in 1997. Eventually moving to Dallas, raising a family, getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sobering up. An insomniac who still struggles with depression – “I get overwhelmed by sadness several times a day and spend a lot of time in tears”
Feherty has managed to achieve success by channeling his restlessness into his work.
“I now take 14 pills a day – antidepressants, mood stabilizers and amphetamines,” he says. “The Adderall is enough to tear most people off the ceiling, but I can take a nap.”
For Feherty, 2016 will be a turning point. After 19 years working as a commentator for CBS, he’ll move to NBC – a transition that allows him to take his talent beyond the fairways. In addition to the Olympics, he’ll cover the international Ryder Cup and other tournaments while continuing to host his talk show – and is even looking to conquer new sports.
“Remember Fred Willard in Best in Show?” he asks. “If there’s a place somewhere for a golf analyst where no technical knowledge is required, I would love to jump in – I just want to be challenged again.”
As he prepares for the next chapter in his improbable career, Feherty spoke to Rolling Stone about partying like a rock star, cultivating his rumpled mystique and changing the face of golf.
A lot of musicians are also avid golfers – why do you think that is?
So many musicians play golf, especially people in rock & roll. But most of them use golf as an alternative to drugs and alcohol. I think for addicts, spare time is their worst enemy. And you know, golf takes up time. Actually it’s one of the problems with the game, but it works in our favor.
There’s a lot of talks these days about trying to make golf faster. To attract younger viewers and get more people playing. Does the sport need to change to survive?
Golf has always gone against the image that it’s for rich white men, and to a certain extent, it is, but before Sam Snead it was a bunch of twitty old duffers smoking pipes and wearing jackets. Sam Snead really made it look like an athletic pastime. Arnold Palmer kind of started the modern era – he made it sexy back in the ’50s and ’60s. And Tiger Woods reinvented the game.
We’re seeing the effect of that now, with these youngsters that have come up. Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth and Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, and dozens more of these colorful characters. They were 9, 10, 11 years old when Tiger Woods was on his feet, and they’re making the game cool again. Golf reinvents itself every 20 or 30 years or so.
Thirty years ago, you won the Scottish Open – then woke up two days later on a green alongside Led Zeppelin’s former road manager. Can you tell the story there?
Well, I won the 1986 Scottish Open and it seemed like a good idea. That was back when I was really just getting into not just golf and being successful, but the rush of performing in front of a bunch of people and applause and adulation. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’m bipolar and it was something to deal with the strangeness in my life. I was an addict to pain killers fairly early.
You know, “comfortably numb,” as Pink Floyd put it. And I’m Northern Irish, so I remember the last physical with my doctor where alcohol became a problem. He looked at the numbers and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about getting help?” And I said, “No, I can drink it all by myself.”