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The Dark Side of David Feherty

David Feherty, Iraq
Michael Clifton/USO
David Feherty visiting soldiers in Iraq in 2007.

When asked what he reads, Feherty first mentions what he is re-reading -- the poetry of W.B. Yeats, the essays and dramas of Oscar Wilde, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front -- before copping to an obsession with the collected letters of Thomas Jefferson. ("The language is so beautiful. Jefferson's so succinct and so insightful.") When he gets rolling, Feherty can lose his golf-industry pals on the cultural backroads. His Charles Peirce is the 19th-century philosopher known as "the father of pragmatism," not the Charles Pierce who wrote a GQ profile nailing Tiger Woods as a 21-year-old pussy hound. (Although, to be fair, Feherty could have written the raunchy jokes that Woods told Pierce's limo driver.)

But while his brain performs like a Lamborghini on the test course, you have to wonder who's steering it on the streets. Feherty is absent-minded. (He leaves refrigerator and garage doors open all night, he misses writing deadlines, he's sometimes late to production meetings, and he burns through roughly three pairs of reading glasses per week.)

He's accident prone. (Already battered from a couple of high-profile road-bike accidents, he fell off a cliff and broke his right leg last year while hunting hogs, alone, in rural Texas at 3 a.m.) He's given to ranting. ("I've read The Art of War several times, and I still haven't found the chapter where you tell the enemy when you're leaving." ... "Nobody ever listens to the second verse of Danny Boy." ... "The present is important, the past is totally irrelevant." ... "I threw away my Irish passport. I don't want to be an Irish-American." . . . "John Cleese is a genius!")

Feherty's brain, moreover, has no brake pedal.

"I spent nine straight days with him in a war zone," says Tilghman, recounting one of Feherty's trips to Iraq and Afghanistan for his Troops First Foundation, "riding buses, sharing lodging. And I never saw David sleep for more than an hour. His body takes occasional naps, but his mind never sleeps."

There's no mystery to Feherty's behavior. Six years ago, in a widely read Golf Magazine profile, the retired tour pro admitted to years of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse -- a dance with clinical depression that had him drinking more than two bottles of Irish whiskey per day. The underlying diagnosis is Bipolar I disorder, a form of manic-depressive illness. Hypomanic symptoms consistent with Bipolar I include "inflated self-esteem, flight of ideas, distractibility, and decreased need for sleep" -- which pretty much describes Feherty's forgetfulness, his rants, and his four-in-the-morning trips to the garage to cut rifle-barrel threads on a lathe.

"Everybody's brain chemistry is different," says Feherty, freely conceding that his resembles the formula for Sara Lee lemon-meringue pie. Along with a daily regimen of antidepressants and mood-stabilizers he takes "an enormous dose" of amphetamines. ("They make other people hyper, but they make me relaxed.") He wears his pharmaceutical leash grudgingly, but it's way better than the despondency that engulfs him if he doesn't take his meds.

"And occasionally I don't," he admits. "I have the brilliant idea that I'm all right now, that I'm no longer depressed."

Asked to describe his depressive episodes, he stares at his hands. "I feel a hollowness inside that I wouldn't wish on anybody."

There's no punch line. No kicker. That's unusual for Feherty, who has been making people laugh since he assumed the "class jester" role at his school in Bangor, N.I., a Belfast exurb. Bangor is where he began, as he puts it, "playing the part of me."

Here, for instance, is how Feherty, playing "Feherty," talks about his alcoholism:

I would go for my annual physical once every three years [arched eyebrows] and my numbers were all right, until the last one. My doctor was looking at the chart, and he said, "How much are you drinking?" And I thought, Oh god [slumped shoulders], here we go. I said, "Well, you know, one and a half, two and a half bottles a day." He said, "Of wine?" And I said, "No, Irish whiskey." The doctor said, "My god [mouth agape], these numbers should be in Cooperstown! They're Mickey Mantle's! Have you ever thought about getting help?" And I said, "No! [bewildered look] I can drink it all by myself!"

You can't help but laugh. But if you're Feherty, you're wondering what kind of damage the whiskey and pills did to your ruminative organ. And you're asking Anita why, in a country where Debbie Does Dallas can be overnighted with a single click of the mouse, there's a two-month wait to get a brain scan.


"Spare time," Feherty likes to say, "is the addict's worst enemy." He adds, "That's why I'm riding my bike or using a physicist's scale and measuring to ten thousandths of a gram to make the most expensive ammunition in the history of shooting." He explains that while factory ammunition is good -- "that's what our snipers use in the theater" -- he can make it "so much better."

The battle against down time is complicated by Feherty's insomnia. "I don't sleep for days at a time," he says. "I take a two-milligram Klonopin and a 10-milligram Ambien, which would put a racehorse to sleep. I'll get maybe three hours."

This goes a long way toward explaining how Feherty can juggle multiple careers and pursuits. He covers roughly 20 tournaments a year for CBS and Golf Channel. He writes and hosts up to 22 episodes per season of Feherty, each episode requiring travel and a day or two of shooting. He accepts three or four speaking engagements per month at $40,000 to $50,000 a pop. He visits hospitals, hosts golf outings for wounded warriors, and leads Bob Hope-style, entertain-the-troops tours of the Middle East.

"David is the hardest-working man I know," says Bill Walters, the sports-betting tycoon and philanthropist, while watching Feherty mingle with guests at a black-tie dinner for Opportunity Village of Las Vegas. "Fifty or sixty nights a year he's doing this type of event, and he doesn't charge a penny."

Neither does he phone it in. Here's Feherty playing "Feherty" for anyone approaching him for a handshake or an autograph. For a local gossip columnist he puts down his Diet Coke and poses for a photo. For a married couple lavishing him with praise he arches his eyebrows and gushes, "I love people with low standards. It's my demographic!"

He's equally voluble over dinner, telling his table, "I just bought a raffle ticket for a '61 Mercedes convertible. It's been sawed in half and filled with marijuana twice." Meanwhile, his steak and salmon cool on the plate. "I never eat at speaking engagements," he explained earlier. "You can't talk with your mouth full, so I just wave my fork with food on it."

The point being that the man and the role seem to be one and the same. In this he's unlike Hall of Famer Lee Trevino, who cracks people up at the course but is forbidding when off the clock. "Tiger Woods gets the same Feherty as Joe Smith," says Tilghman, testifying to Feherty's genuineness.

Taking the stage at the Vegas fundraiser, he's everyday Feherty -- only more practiced. He opens with a very blue joke involving Elton John that elicits gasps and a rising tide of laughter that takes a good 10 seconds to die down. Having staggered the audience with that one comedic uppercut, Feherty rambles on and kills, sending up his CBS colleague Gary McCord, his own past as a boozer, his awe of veterans...adroitly leading his audience to a heartfelt appeal for Opportunity Village and the 3,000 intellectually disabled people it serves. When Feherty exits the stage to prolonged applause, comedian and emcee Brad Garrett says, "I never thought I would be shown up by a golf announcer. You are funny, David, really funny."

Later, watching her man work the fringes of the lively after-party, Anita Feherty says, "This is his life. This is what David does." She smiles. "This fills his soul."

She leaves unsaid the obvious inference: that David's soul needs filling.

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