By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY – It was June 2006 and David Feherty was guzzling 2½ bottles of whiskey and downing 40 Vicodin tablets a day when he got called out by Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, starting Feherty on the road of sobriety that brought him Tuesday night to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
For about 90 minutes, Feherty – a 54-year-old Irishman-turned-American who gained fame first as a player, then as a golf analyst for CBS and The Golf Channel – entertained about 600 people gathered for “An Evening of Courage and Inspiration” to support Teen Recovery Solutions, a nonprofit Oklahoma City organization that helps teens and their families struggling with chemical abuse or dependence.
“This helps me with my recovery,” Feherty said. “I appear to be America’s poster child for drug abuse and alcoholism, and I tell people all the time, I’m actually a therapist. I’m just an addict – that’s all.”
Feherty was his usual irreverent self – “I hope I’ll be able to insult at least half the people in the room tonight,” he said as he began his speech. Sure enough, he touched on various hot-button issues – ranging from the current unrest in Iraq and the Middle East to the debate over the Washington Redskins’ nickname – while telling his life’s story.
Born in Northern Ireland, Feherty won 10 tournaments during a 21-year playing career, including the 1986 Scottish Open. (He lost the tournament trophy soon after, while drunk.) He played on Europe’s 1991 Ryder Cup team. But he said he already was a functioning alcoholic by the time he joined CBS in 1997. He was also, he said, a drug addict, and he has been diagnosed as bipolar.
He told about how he consumed a half-bottle of whiskey, then tried to take a shortcut to Butler Cabin while working on a Masters television broadcast. He took a wrong turn and ended up driving on Augusta National’s par-3 course. Of course, he was caught, but he said nothing happened to him as a result, despite evidence of his driving while drinking.
“I don’t remember the ‘90s at all,” he said. “It’s all gone in the swirling mists of time.”
After two failed attempts to quit drinking and taking drugs, Feherty was in Prince Edward Island, Canada, to film a television special with Watson and Nicklaus.
“I was at the bottom of this cold, dank, slimy hole, with just a vague view of daylight,” Feherty said.
Feherty sat down with Watson to start taping, and Watson put his hand over the camera and asked him, “You’re not well, are you?”
Watson told him, “I can see it in your eyes.” Feherty answered, “What do you see?” The reply was sobering and Feherty paused a bit while recounting the story.
“He looked at me, and I’ll never forget it,” Feherty said. “He said, ‘My reflection.’ I didn’t know that he had a problem. … It was just one of those things. I was the first person that he’d decided to share this with.”
Watson told Feherty he needed to travel with Watson to his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near Watson’s home outside of Kansas City, Mo. Feherty tried to come up with an excuse, but Nicklaus chimed in, “You know, you might want to go with him. You look like crap.”
Yes, Feherty said, “the greatest golfer of all time was heckling me.”
Nicklaus offered the use of his plane, and soon, Feherty flew with Watson to attend an AA meeting.
“I’ve been sober since that day and Tom has been like a big brother,” Feherty said. He started attending AA meetings – no matter where he was – at the start of every day, he added, because “it turned a red light to green” in his life.
Feherty praised his co-workers at CBS for watching out for him and helping him stay sober.
“Every day is difficult, but I’m surrounded by people who care about me,” he said. “The key word is surrounded.”
Because idle time is the enemy of any addict, Feherty said he keeps his schedule as busy as possible. In addition to his television work, he’s an avid gunsmith – he has a workshop at his Dallas-area home – and is passionate about his Troops First Foundation, which provides assistance to U.S. soldiers injured during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a huge supporter of the Folds of Honor Foundation and regularly attends the Patriot Cup at the Patriot Golf Club in Owasso.
He’s also a frequent speaker at events like the one he attended Tuesday, and he appreciates the interaction with others who fight the same addiction issues he faces daily. Earlier Tuesday, he attended Mission Academy, a high school that’s run by Teen Recovery Solutions. Two students who have attended that school – Nico Lopez and Zack White – spoke before Feherty at the dinner and Feherty praised their courage in sharing their stories.
Telling his story, and hearing the success stories of others “does me more good than any of these kids, because I’m still working on my recovery,” Feherty said. “The black dog is still barking, but it doesn’t own me any more. I own it.”