I’ll confess that I’m of two minds when it comes to David Feherty.
At his best, Feherty has a unique gift for free-association thinking that manifests itself in creative word play. He can describe a fairly mundane act – say, a 9-iron approach from 140 yards – with a witty riff that distinguishes him from his contemporaries. I think so highly of this skill that two years ago, in a thoroughly unscientific assessment, I went so far as to rank Feherty No. 2 on a list of the top 10 television golf analysts. That proved one of two things: Either Feherty is really good at his main job, or I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. It’s quite possible that the truth lies somewhat closer to the latter.
Then there’s the bad Feherty, the one we sometimes see in more free-flowing settings, such as his eponymous Golf Channel series, in which he interviews players and celebrities. This is the Feherty who tends to ramble aimlessly, who filibusters when a five-word question would be more appropriate, who often seems more consumed by his personal history than that of his subject, and who routinely defaults to tiresome scatological humor. On those occasions when we confront this Feherty, I sometimes wonder: When did he become such a big, honkin’ star that his producer lost either the inclination or the nerve to whisper in his earpiece, “David, time to refocus before you fall off the deep end”?
We saw both sides of Feherty in his intrepid, if uneven, “Feherty Live” special shot in Indianapolis on Friday and aired on Super Bowl eve. (As an aside, how is one to describe a “live” show that was shot on Friday, but aired on Saturday? Isn’t that sort of like shooting “Saturday Night Live” on Friday?)
The show originally was scheduled to air from 10-11 p.m. Saturday, but Golf Channel liked the live vibe and decided to let it run an extra hour. If you recorded only the first hour, you can see a rebroadcast of the full two-hour show Feb. 6 at 10 p.m.
In his opening monologue, Feherty recalled hearing a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said, “People with no sense of humor have no sense of proportion, and shouldn’t be put in charge of anything.” That statement, Feherty said, “gave me a vantage point where it seemed I saw things differently from other people. All of a sudden I was watching a movie that only I could see.”
So that explains it.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the evolution of Feherty from lowly on-course reporter to one of the game’s most recognizable personalities. In the process, we’ve seen both the Good David – the one who is entertaining, even insightful – and the Bad David – the one who is overexposed, like a cornerback who is good in pass defense, but can’t defend the run.
The Good David is the one who described the swing of his final guest, Indiana native Fuzzy Zoeller, as being “like snow falling off a branch. You don’t know where it starts or where it ends.” Every writer who has covered Zoeller over the past 35 years probably wishes he had penned that line.
The Bad David is the one who, after “Tebowing” in honor of his first guest – who else? – feigned discomfort, saying, “I think I may have torn my sack.” The joke fell flat.
There was one benefit from Feherty’s penchant for off-color humor. In footage shot during the Super Bowl media day, he asked New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, “Does it upset you that nobody pronounces your name correctly?” This amused Coughlin, who recalled childhood friends ribbing him because the first syllable of his surname, when properly pronounced, has a “-ck” rather than “-ugh” sound. Coughlin has been in the public eye for two decades, and I would bet that’s the first time he ever got that question.
Feherty is golf’s Holden Caulfield, putting his unfiltered life out there for all to see. We, his viewers, are all his de facto psychoanalysts. Yet self-awareness isn’t necessarily his strong suit.
“I devised a way to insult people, but I do it in a way that gives them a chance, by their reaction, to show us who they really are,” Feherty said during his monologue. “I’m the politically correct replacement to Ben Wright.”
That’s not quite accurate. In fact, when interviewing people Feherty races right up to the edge of conflict, then dawdles and hems and haws and taps his feet and twiddles his thumbs. One can almost see the tumblers at work in his peculiar brain, trying to find a way to avoid asking a simple, straightforward question that might be seen, on some level, to be confrontational and mildly annoying to his subject.
We saw this near the end of his conversation with Zoeller. Feherty alluded to the dust-up that arose from Zoeller’s comment about Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters. That topic came from out of nowhere and seemed unnecessary given the levity of the evening. Can we all agree that Zoeller was pilloried far too much for a remark that might have been ill-advised, but certainly wasn’t malicious?
But Feherty didn’t rehash that story. Instead, he spoke of Zoeller’s good charitable works, then segued into one of his favorite topics.
“There are too many people in this country that are too quick to take offense,” he said.
Amen, Brother Feherty.
What followed was an appeal to America’s better instincts.
“I am not an Irish-American. I threw away my Irish passport,” Feherty said. “I don’t want to hear that someone is Italian-American, I don’t want to hear that they’re Chinese-American, I don’t want to hear if they’re African-American. This is going to be a better country when we can just be Americans.”
It was classic Feherty. The rant might have come out of left field, it might have been forced, but it was genuine and struck a nerve with this critic and his audience.