David Feherty, eyes closed, is banging his head on the elevator wall. But gently, so as not to further scramble his long-suffering gray matter. "You'd have to be a total idiot," he says into the wall, "to send me on the simplest errand without a guide dog and a nurse. I need a caretaker, and that's the truth."
The Irish lilt of his internationally recognized voice puts a comedic spin on the past 10 minutes, during which the CBS golf reporter and host of the eponymous Golf Channel interview show, clutching his electronic room key, has roamed the labyrinthine corridors of a Las Vegas hotel tower before remembering that the Aria Resort and Casino actually has two guest towers.
Straightening, a bemused Feherty shakes his head. His trim torso, in ruffled dress shirt and unbuttoned vest, looks ready for a black-tie affair, but his nether anatomy wears jeans and pointy suede boots. His black hair is combed back in the brilliantined style of a fifties cowboy crooner, but pointy sideburns and a Van Dyke beard suggest Lucifer in a production of Damn Yankees.
"Last week," he says in the plummeting elevator, "I couldn't find my room at the Bellagio," another Vegas casino. "I nearly slept in the hallway."
Feherty is embellishing a story he told over a tapas lunch, in which he recalled performing for an industry group at the Bellagio a few days earlier. "There were two thousand of them," he said, "but I had no idea who I was talking to. It was restaurant managers, but it could have been the local child-molesting club!"
The jokey coda was vintage Feherty. So was the way he rolled his eyes after announcing that his in-laws would be spending Thanksgiving at his home in Dallas.("They're from Mississippi. They think Deliverance is a love story.")
But you can't separate Feherty's antics from his anxieties. He noticed a few years ago that he was starting to forget things. "And not where my car keys were," he said at lunch. "I was starting to forget words. At a speaking engagement for the Navy I had to ask the audience to help me. 'What do you call that thing that goes across the land that has water in it?' And people would shout, 'A tanker!' No, that's not it. Somebody shouts something else. 'A stream!' "No! I meant a river."
He smacked his forehead with the heel of his right hand. "I've had my head run over a couple of times, taken a few falls, been knocked senseless."
So yeah, Feherty has reason to worry about the possibility that he's losing his ability to express or comprehend speech, a condition known as aphasia. At 54, he already depends on his wife of 17 years to manage his affairs and make sure he doesn't get on a plane to Fargo when he's supposed to speak in Seattle. "I rely on Anita beyond anything you can imagine," he'd said in the restaurant, staring wistfully at the attractive brunette by his side. "I don't know where we bank. I don't know how much I get paid. I couldn't tell you my net worth."
It got so bad last summer that he asked Anita to make an appointment for him to get an MRI brain scan.
"My problem," he starts to say--but he's interrupted by the elevator doors opening. He steps out and looks right and left before joining a parade of guests headed for the casino floor. His eyes search for a sign pointing to the Skyview Suites Tower.
"Remind me again," Feherty says to a reporter. "What is this for?"
The doctors x-rayed my head, Dizzie Dean used to say, and found nothing.
Feherty went to a neurologist for tests a few years ago, already worried that his mental deterioration mirrored that of his Alzheimer's-stricken father in Northern Ireland. But far from confirming dementia, a battery of cognitive tests showed the younger Feherty to be in the top percentile, noodlewise.
That surprised no one who had worked with Feherty, from his CBS colleagues to the editors of his five books. The word most used to describe him -- after lunatic -- is genius. "David is one of the most quick-minded people I've ever met," says Golf Channel analyst Kelly Tilghman, "and he has an amazing ability to paint pictures with words." Keith Allo, the executive producer of Feherty, says, "There's a definite genius to the way he looks at the world."
"David's brilliant," confirms Anita Feherty. "I'd say he's becoming a genius. He's constantly reading and discovering."