Boring. Stodgy. Calcified. Some 35 years after "Caddyshack," golf is still a musty, old place that could stand to lighten up a little, or a lot.
This reading of the public mood comes courtesy of David Feherty, or rather the public’s voluble reaction to a Sports Business Daily report—unconfirmed—that he and CBS couldn’t agree on his role going forward and have ended their 19-year relationship. (One industry insider said Thursday morning that Feherty is likely headed to NBC, whose sister network, the Golf Channel, already broadcasts his eponymous talk show.)
CBS issued no press release on the matter and Feherty seemed to go into hiding. Initially even Gary McCord couldn’t reach him. Asked for comment, McCord texted me, “I can’t offer anything because I don’t know anything. Can’t find David. I’m hoping it was an alien abduction. That I can understand!”
With Feherty temporarily in no-man’s land, his weekends suddenly free after two decades of roaming the fairways and cracking wise, the reaction on social media was swift and passionate. One tweet called CBS’s decision to let him go quite possibly “the dumbest move in the history of network TV.” That’s saying a lot, considering ABC once passed on CSI.
What the public’s reaction really speaks to, though—in addition to Feherty’s popularity—is its longstanding perception of golf as ponderous and overly self-serious. Somebody needs to poke holes in all that pomposity, people seemed to be saying, and no one is more qualified than Feherty to be that somebody. They’re probably right.
The 57-year-old Irishman, who in two decades as a player won five times on the European Tour, wasn’t just being funny when he said, “Never has my flabber been so completely gasted.” Or when he compared Jim Furyk’s swing to “an octopus falling out of a tree,” or when he said that watching Phil Mickelson play golf was, “like watching a drunk chase a balloon near the edge of a cliff.” Feherty was saying, in words no one had thought to use, what we all were thinking—the essence of wit.
How could CBS let a guy like that go?
Feherty started at the network in 1997, just as Tiger Woods was exploding on Tour. That gave the unapologetic Woods fan Feherty plenty to talk about, and he found his voice from there. Part of what made him so effective was the presence of straight man Jim Nantz, the face and the voice of CBS golf. The contrast between them—one man reliable, predictable and reverential, and the other, well, not that—somehow made it work.
To be fair to CBS, Feherty may have made unreasonable demands. We don’t know the particulars. And the network’s cupboard is hardly bare; it still has the mustachioed McCord, who recruited Feherty nearly two decades ago. A failed touring professional who taught himself magic as he transitioned into his career as a broadcaster, McCord was the original disrupter of network golf, even managing to get himself barred from CBS’s Masters telecast. (Still more of a badge of honor than a disgrace.)
Amazingly, Feherty never found himself in such a predicament even though he was wracked with personal demons—he has talked openly about his alcoholism and depression—and politically more divisive than McCord. An ardent supporter of and fundraiser for injured U.S. military veterans, Feherty can be openly disdainful of politicians who don’t share his pro-military bent. Some observers predicted CBS would let him go after the Dallas resident, acting as a guest columnist for D Magazine in 2009, wrote:
“From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this, though: despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there’s a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death.”
The line was classic Feherty. It was also, to many, offensive. Who was chasing the balloon near the edge of the cliff now? But Feherty did not get fired, and would remain a weekend fixture on the network’s golf telecasts for years to come, until now. (His rise and fall with CBS now seems to have perfectly coincided with Woods’s rise and fall on Tour.)
What happened? Was Feherty fired or did he leave? Was he simply tired of the grind of being a CBS foot soldier while tending to his popular talk show on the Golf Channel? Will he take on a reduced role with NBC? Will he get along with Johnny Miller, Dan Hicks and the rest of them?
These are the unknowns. But perhaps Feherty’s whereabouts—per McCord’s text message—didn’t matter so much, and nor did the colors of his network blazer. The people had spoken, their message loud and clear: Long live David Feherty, wherever he lands.