David Feherty: Let me entertain you

David Feherty at Universal's Sound Stage 20 running through a dress rehearsal for his upcoming live shows.

David Feherty at Universal's Sound Stage 20 running through a dress rehearsal for his upcoming live shows.

David Feherty is decidedly uncomfortable. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s the night before his fourth “Feherty Live,” which will air on Golf Channel the night before the PGA Merchandise Show, with another live show to air the following night. He’s just finished up a rehearsal in front of a live audience of Golf Channel staff, working through his introduction and monologues, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Keith Allo, the executive producer and vice president original productions, is circling nearby, giving instructions to the crew on Soundstage 20 of the Universal Orlando lot. Josh Kelley and his band, which have become the house musical act for “Feherty Live,” is relaxing on stage, having just performed a new song, “Wide Open Spaces,” written specifically for the occasion. Feherty’s 85-year-old mother, Vi, just in from Northern Ireland, is sitting nearby, entertaining Golf Channel president Mike McCarley.

“I never thought I’d have a show, never mind a band playing behind me, or even people who wanted to be on it,” Feherty says after the audience has left.

Feherty says his nerves have been churning for days, but he appears otherwise calm, even peaceful – hardly the frenetic presence we sometimes see on camera. At “55 and a half” years of age – “Most people when they get to double figures lose the half, but it’s still important to me” – his life has never been better.

Four years ago I wrote that Feherty’s “wit sometimes causes viewers to overlook his wisdom. He’s TV’s sharpest on-course announcer.” But his familiar role with CBS wasn’t enough. He wanted more. His interview show on Golf Channel – he has done 56 shows over the past three years – seems to have satisfied that longing.

“It’s what I wanted is to be able to make my own television and have something that is a little more intellectually stimulating than walking around behind the leaders and making the occasional pithy comment,” Feherty says. “It was becoming a problem for me, only having that to do. I felt like I was going nowhere. It’s not that I didn’t like my job; it’s just that I felt like I had more to offer. I want to maintain a footprint in golf, but I want to be with other people to do other things that interest me.”

During a Q&A session with the audience, Feherty made a fascinating observation about the people whom he has interviewed over the past three years. He said each of his subjects – whether they be golfers or business executives or athletes from other sports – has at least one thing in common.

“Successful people want to be in a place where they know they’re going to be uncomfortable. . .,” he said. “To be on top of the pyramid, it’s kind of pointy.”

Feherty might not sit in the 18th tower on Sundays and he might not have any major championships to his name – though he was a Ryder Cupper with five European Tour victories – but he’s on top of golf’s television pyramid.

“That stimulates me far more than any golf shot I ever hit or anything I ever won,” he says. “As a player I knew that I didn’t want to be in that uncomfortable place, or as uncomfortable as you need to be. I played at the highest level for 20 years, but I knew I could never be at the top of the profession.

“This,” he says, referring to his show and entertaining live audiences, “is a different arena for me, and I do want to make myself uncomfortable here. I’m uncomfortable now, and I’ll be uncomfortable out there until the bell rings. That’s the rush that I could never get – well, I got it a few times playing golf, but not like that.”

Even before the first “Feherty Live” aired before the February 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Allo knew Golf Channel had found something that worked. A few minutes before that first live show, Feherty walked on stage to warm up the crowd and was greeted with 45 seconds of cheering.

“I realized right then that we’ve got something,” Allo recalled. “People love David. He seems like the kind of guy who you can have a conversation with. So people gravitate toward him.”

It went so well that 10 minutes into that first live, one-hour show, as Feherty was interviewing former NFL player Tim Tebow, Allo called an audible. He whispered in his star’s ear, “We’re going to two hours.”

During his regular series, Feherty has shown a knack for getting his subjects to open up in ways they never have before. That’s not easy, given the sophisticated and guarded nature of the people he interviews.

One of the interviews recently filmed for the upcoming season was with Jim Furyk. “It’s going to blow people’s minds,” Feherty told the rehearsal audience.

I was dubious. For the past two decades on Tour, Furyk has seemed like a terrific gentleman, but not a particularly interesting or charismatic figure. But Allo came back to that interview later in the evening.

“You could tell (Furyk) was tentative,” Allo said. “He knows David, but he just wasn’t sure. By the end, he was crying, he didn’t want to leave, he wanted to hang out. He was telling David, ‘I’ll do whatever you want,’ almost as if David had done him a favor. The transformation of that was amazing.”

The secret, Feherty says, “is not about asking questions; it’s about listening to answers.”

By 9 p.m., it’s time to leave the soundstage. Allo and Feherty plan to work deep into the night, rewriting and fine-tuning the script for the next night’s show. Allo wants to rework one monologue to include a funny story Feherty told about his mother during the Q&A period.

When the music comes up and light goes on the next night, Feherty says, “I’m going to entertain myself, and if anybody else (enjoys it), that’s a byproduct.”

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