David Feherty is among golf’s most intriguing and entertaining personalities, having spent more than two decades on television following his professional playing career.
Feherty, 61, is entering the 10th year as the host of his Emmy-nominated and self-titled original series on Golf Channel, and also continues to serve as an on-course reporter for NBC Sports Group’s tournament coverage. While rooted in golf, the ‘Feherty’ show spans the worlds of sports, entertainment and politics, with a deep lineup of guests that’s included four presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump), Hollywood icons ranging from Kevin Hart to Larry David, sports stars like Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley, and a host of current and former golfers.
“It’s a wonder that I’ve managed to con 10 seasons worth of guests into sitting next to me for an extended period,” notes Feherty, a native of Northern Ireland and the author of six books, including one titled `Somewhere in Ireland a Village Is Missing its Idiot.’
“It’s also somewhat alarming that the bar for what is considered good television remains just high enough for me to crawl underneath it.”
Feherty sat down to talk with the NGF about his show and it’s decade-long run, the evolution of golf media, the challenges facing the golf industry today, his most memorable Masters moments, and the ways in which golf can bring people of all walks of life together:
Who have been some of your favorite guests on the show through the years and why?
I tend to gravitate toward the non-golfers because I’m in golf. Bill Russell always sticks out to me. He was amazing. When you shake his hand, there’s a warmth and electricity. You know you’re in the presence of greatness, even if you don’t know much about him. And I knew very little. I knew he had 11 rings. That was about it.
People like Sam Jackson, Don Cheadle, Matthew McConaughey. I like the actors because acting is similar to golf. You can’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. You have to be able to let that go. At the time that it matters the most, you have to behave in a way that it looks like it matters the least. There’s such a huge gap between those two things. You have to be relaxed. You have to play like you don’t care when you care the most. That’s sort of what separates the greats.
Condoleeza Rice was another one. Just a stunning person. And the common thread is that they love the game. You can see that each one of them was hooked in one way or another. Some of them would probably like to give it up, but they just can’t.
Year 10 for the show is a great run. Do you look back on the episodes to see how you’ve changed, evolved, improved?
I don’t watch it. I watched the first episode, which was with Lee Trevino. That meant a lot to me – because he was my hero. Still is. My playing career I couldn’t watch either. It crapped me out. People would say to me, how do you improve if you don’t watch? Well, I didn’t improve (as a player). It is pretty much what it is 10 years ago.
What are your thoughts about how golf is covered today, across a variety of mediums? It’s certainly evolved considerably during the time you’ve been a broadcaster. Are you encouraged by what you see in terms of coverage and story-telling?
In the last four or five years, it’s been dramatic. There was a time when golf telecasts were an hour and a half. As a viewer, you saw from (hole) 15 in. I think we’re in danger of showing too much. Having said that, I think it’s terrific the amount of outlets that we have and the way they’ve made it more media friendly. You can watch golf from anywhere and that sort of thing. It’s almost sensory overload! But things are going to change, possibly dramatically, with the new contract negotiations and there’s going to be a lot more streaming, and different platforms. It will be interesting to see how that shapes up.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the golf industry today?
There aren’t enough mothers playing the game. If your mom plays, you’re playing as well. Dad might go and play and go to the bar afterwards. That was the way I was; I was left outside with a German Shepherd and one club.
If we get more women and children involved, I think that’s extremely important. And the shorter golf courses too. We don’t need absurdly difficult courses. Our ruling bodies are obsessed how the least important group of players are affected by a golf course. The most important group of players are the ones who watch the telecast. The game has to stay popular with the masses and some golf courses are just too difficult. I love the idea of the 12-hole course, where it doesn’t take so long. I like the idea of playing shorter golf courses, or playing the longer golf courses off relevant tees.
I think we’re heading in the right direction. They’re starting to think about it anyway. If you want to get more women and children involved, we need more nine-hole, executive type golf courses, 12-holers, where you don’t have to spend as much time.
When was the last time you played golf yourself?
I got run over by a truck while riding a bicycle in 2007, so it’s been 13 years. It punctured my lung and broke all my ribs on my left side. It mangled my shoulder and arm. One arm is four inches longer because the shoulder got so badly separated and they couldn’t operate on it. I can’t close two fingers on my left hand. I lost my ulnar nerve. This one still works fine and I can still communicate with other drivers though. (Holds up his middle finger)
I got hit by motor vehicles three times while riding. It was beginning to look like a hobby. I had an open tab at the ER.
One was in Dearborn, Michigan. I woke up in the hospital and have no recollection of that at all. They had to drill a hole in my head to release the pressure. I was hit once in New York. I smashed a windshield when a woman drove through a red light.
With the truck incident, the irony of it was I’d just gotten sober and I was in great shape, lost about 70 pounds, and I was almost at home after riding for four of five hours one morning. And then I got hit by this truck. He hit me with the wing mirror, and then with the back of the trailer which was carrying lawn equipment. I vaulted over, landed on my one shoulder, bounced back into the road and then he ran me over on this side. I’m in mid-air and I’m thinking, ‘Christ, I hope this isn’t a beer truck because I could die of irony: Well, the drink got him in the end.’ That was it for me. I thought I should stop riding, and I was riding 250 to 300 miles a week, getting up really early in the morning and doing that. I still miss it.
Do you miss playing golf?
To be honest with you, not at all. Initially I did, but being involved in the game at such a high level and seeing how these kids play these days, to try and play for me, without putting in the work, without being able to play at that level I think would have been very frustrating. I think you could say I had a love affair with the game to an extent, but it was always going to work for me. I was playing to make a living. I wasn’t one of those people saying I was doing it for the trophies.
Can you talk about the good that you’ve seen the game of golf do? It raises billions of dollars for charities every year and I know you’ve done a lot with your efforts with the Troops First Foundation.
It’s one of the real great aspects of my life, just to be able to spend time with them. It’s their attitude.
And golf is amazing that way. Pretty much every player has a foundation where they raise money by themselves for various different charities. Okay, it’s a wealthy demographic, but we give more per capita, I think, than any other sport, and unfeasibly more. It’s a tremendous medium for that because it’s such a great corporate vehicle for entertainment. (With pro-am tournaments), anybody can play with Rory McIlroy, get drawn with Tiger Woods, and it’s about the only sport you can do that in.
You covered the Masters Tournament for 19 years, every one in the tower at the par-5 15th hole. What are some of your most memorable behind-the-scenes memories?
When Tiger chipped in from behind 16 (in 2005), my tower rang like a tuning fork for about five minutes.
I remember somebody, a fan, did a cannonball in the pond at 16. You know when the players skip it across (in the practice round), that’s when somebody went in. I always thought if Verne Lundquist did a cannonball off the Hogan Bridge it would be one of the greatest moments in sports.
I remember there was a spotter named Bob Smithson, a Canadian guy. When Arnold Palmer played his last hole at the Masters, Smitty was the spotter in the 18th fairway. Arnold was hitting some kind of wood for his second shot, took a little divot, and it ended up short right of the green. Smitty was standing there waiting for the next group to come through and he’s looking at this divot and thinking, ‘That’s Arnold Palmer’s last divot at Augusta. I think I’ll keep it.’ So, he put it in the front of his bib, took it back to Buffalo where he lives, and stamped it into a hole he just scraped out in his lawn. And it took over his lawn.
So, his backyard is Arnold Palmer’s last divot at Augusta.
If you were still playing golf, which three people would you most like to join you for a round? It’s a cliché question, but it seems to be one that speaks to the depth of this game – to the wide range of people it touches.
Golf unites and brings people together. Different ages, genders, backgrounds, interests. It’s unique that way.
But the answer for me changes from time to time. I’d play with Jack (Nicklaus) because I only ever played nine holes with him and I played with pretty much everyone else — from Trevino to Arnold. I would play with Annika Sorenstam because she had one of the great moments in the sport, for me, when she teed off at the 10th at Colonial (in a 2003 PGA TOUR event). She didn’t have to do that. When her knees buckled after the tee shot, she was my little girl as well. I thought that was tremendously courageous. And I would play with my son (Shey), who died… That would be the three.
What are some of the things you love most about the game of golf? What do you consider it’s biggest positives and selling points?
The charitable aspect would be among the biggest things, certainly. The professional game is in a fantastic place with Tiger back in the mix and all these kids who grew up with him as the bar. People talk about the golden age and the Big Three, but I think we’re pretty much in a golden age in golf right now. I think it’s in a wonderful place and I’m just glad to be a part of it in some small way.
It’s such a great social vehicle and people just give each other shit, which is incredibly healthy. It’s a healthy sport — both physically and emotionally.
You mentioned the social element, which seems to speak to the important experiential aspect of golf. Do you ever sense that too many facilities are simply marketing their golf course and missing out on something even more essential?
We have to do a better job of selling the experience. I think that has got to be in words and pictures, and part of it falls to us as well, in television. Without television, most of this doesn’t exist.
Look at Topgolf. I went to one in Las Vegas, did a corporate event there with John Daly, and it was an incredible atmosphere. They’re a terrific example of it, making golf more accessible to the masses, more fun, and shorter, which I think is one of the keys. But it’s about the experience.
The National Golf Foundation is a community of individuals and golf businesses committed to being the most well-informed advocates for the growth of the industry. With the world’s largest research team dedicated to golf, NGF provides members with the most accurate and objective insights on the game. We help golf businesses better understand their market and grow their businesses. The NGF is the only association for everyone in golf, and we advocate for growth by educating and connecting our members.