(AP) — David Feherty considers himself a lucky man.
Not because of his five European tour victories. Not because he played in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, where he beat Payne Stewart. And not just because he stumbled into a job as a golf analyst for CBS Sports, where his wit and irreverence make him more entertaining than the golf itself.
The strongest reminder came last year aboard a C-130 as he was leaving Iraq during a USO tour to visit troops.
The plane made a U-turn to Balad Air Base north of Baghdad to pick up “HR,” which Feherty later realized meant human remains. A C-5 Galaxy on the runway shut down its engines upon seeing the procession, and the silence was chilling. The tailgate dropped on the C-130, and a casket draped with an American flag was rolled into the belly of the plane between the passengers.
“He wasn’t luggage,” Feherty said. “He was a passenger. It was such a moving experience. I always regretted not knowing who it was, so I could write to his parents and tell them what an honor it was to be with him on his journey home.”
So concluded a six-day tour to five hospitals and 11 bases called “Operation Links.”
Feherty was so moved by the experience that he was compelled to do more.
He is involved with “Troops First Foundation,” with hopes of raising $15 million for soldiers who return wounded, many of them without limbs. He created his own division – “F Troop” – and took eight soldiers to South Dakota for pheasant hunting.
And perhaps the most meaningful of all, Feherty has applied to become an American citizen.
“I think it was going to Iraq and being so proud of this country,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans who haven’t been outside of America don’t really understand how wonderful this place is. … And it just meant more to me, I think in the last year or so, having visited our troops abroad and spent so much time with them at home, that it will be a great honor for me to be an American.”
Feherty is no stranger to violence. He was born and raised in Northern Ireland at a time when the Catholic minority was waging terrorism against British rule. He remembers the bombings, the town center being barricaded, pockets of violence that was horrifying.
“It was like Baghdad with (lousy) weather,” he said.
Trained as an opera singer, he instead pursued golf and did well enough to win five times and make the 1991 Ryder Cup team. Feherty made it through PGA Tour qualifying in 1993, and he was a runner-up outside Boston a year later, but the passion to play wasn’t as strong.
That’s when he found work with CBS Sports, where his memorable lines include this description of Jim Furyk’s swing: “like an octopus falling out of a tree.”
He has lived in Dallas the last dozen years with his wife, Anita, and five children.
“I wake up every day to make sure I’m still in America,” Feherty said.
He celebrated Thanksgiving over the weekend because he is not home this week. Feherty left Monday for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington before heading over to Iraq for the latest USO tour, “Operation Links: For The Troops.”
He will be joined this year by tour winners Donnie Hammond and Howard Twitty; long drive specialists Art Sellinger and Brian Pavlet; Golf Magazine illustrator Victor Juhasz; and Kelly Tilghman of The Golf Channel.
Just like last year, he is not sure what to expect.
“Whether the war was correct, whether it was right to be there … I dismissed that,” Feherty said. “We are here, and I wanted to do something for them. They’re doing what they’re trained to do and what they’ve been asked to do. It’s not a matter of opinions. I was blown away by the commitment of every single person I met.”
In some respects he is like Bob Hope, although his schtick is probably closer to Robin Williams in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” He tells stories. He makes them laugh. Both come naturally.
“They’re so pleased to see anyone from home,” Feherty said. “We get great turnouts. We’ll go to bases that have thousands of troops, then go to bases in the middle of nowhere, close to the border, and they hardly ever get to see anyone. It’s one of the most physical and grueling trips I’ve been on.”
But it was rewarding enough to want to go back, and not stop caring when he gets back to the comfort of his second home.
Feherty can barely breathe without humor. When he first started cycling – before twice getting hit by motorists this year in Dallas and Detroit – he rode the length of 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach and said with sweat pouring down his face, “It’s actually 28 miles.”
But to talk about the troops, his voice cracks with emotion.
“I’ve done things in sports and broadcasting that people think are significant and cool,” he said. “But I’ve never had anything in my life that I feel I’ve done more worthwhile than this.”
Feherty has fallen into the habit of saying “we” when talking about Americans.
Then he catches himself, realizing he is not yet a citizen.
“I look forward to that day,” he said.