By Rodger Hara (September 2015 Celtic Connection newspaper)
There is an unending and good-natured debate over the invention of whiskey/whisky – in Scots Gaelic it’s uisge beatha and in the Irish it’s uisce beatha and in both it means “water of life”.
At the same time, on film and on stage, Scots are often depicted as hard-drinking and hard-fighting, kilt-wearing hard men and the Irish drunk has become a stereotype in films of all kinds, an image perpetuated by the St. Patrick’s Day revelries, the tee shirts involving drink that accompany them and the innumerable Irish drinking songs. Quickly now – can ye name me one good old Scottish drinking song? The list of literate, funny, perceptive and talented Irishmen who have risen to fame and who were well-known alcoholics is lengthy – Wilde, Joyce, Behan, Fitzgerald, O’Hara, O’Brien, O’Toole, Harris – and the darker side of that disease is often forgotten or overlooked in the light of their words and talent.
David Feherty is every bit the wit and talented, quick-minded and literate Irishman of any of the above. In a December 2009 interview in Golf Magazine, when asked what he’s reading, he “…first mentions what he is re-reading — the poetry of W.B. Yeats, the essays and dramas of Oscar Wilde, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front — before copping to an obsession with the collected letters of Thomas Jefferson. (“The language is so beautiful. Jefferson’s so succinct and so insightful.”) When he gets rolling, Feherty can lose his golf-industry pals on the cultural backroads. His Charles Peirce is the 19th-century philosopher known as “the father of pragmatism,” not the Charles Pierce who wrote a GQ profile of Tiger Woods.”
Born and raised in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland, he was his class-clown at an early age, worked for a time for a one-armed window washer in Belfast as his “wringerouter” and became a professional golfer when he turned 18 in 1976. Ten years later he had his best year as a professional, winning both the Italian and Scottish Opens. In the same Golf Magazine interview he said of the Scottish Open win, “They handed me the trophy-a big-ass silver cup. The oldest trophy in all of sport. I drank all sorts of crap from it. I woke up two days later on the 16th tee at Gleneagles, which makes no sense, because I won the tournament in Glasgow [45 miles away]. I opened my eyes to see blue skies and Peter Gant, the road manager for Led Zeppelin. I hadn’t seen him in ages. He’s saying, ‘You all right?’ And the trophy’s gone. Just f–in’ gone. They never did find it. That was a low point.” In all, he won 10 European Tour events before retiring.
In 1997, he became part of CBS Golf’s broadcasting team, and in 2011, star of his own weekly show on the Golf Channel (the highest rated show on that channel), has written six books, including Somewhere in Ireland a Village is Missing an Idiot, An Idiot for All Seasons and The Power of Positive Idiocy. The latter is on the New York Times best-seller list and in it,he discusses his perspective on addiction.
Diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder that he had been treating for years with a variety of pills and two or more bottles of Irish whiskey a day, he acknowledged his alcoholism and battles with depression in 2006 and has been dealing with it daily with the support of family and friends ever since. In a February 2013 Golf Magazine interview he said “I would go for my annual physical once every three years [arched eyebrows] and my numbers were all right, until the last one. My doctor was looking at the chart, and he said, “How much are you drinking?” And I thought, Oh god [slumped shoulders], here we go. I said, “Well, you know, one and a half, two and a half bottles a day.” He said, “Of wine?” And I said, “No, Irish whiskey.” The doctor said, “My god [mouth agape], these numbers should be in Cooperstown! They’re Mickey Mantle’s! Have you ever thought about getting help?” And I said, “No! [bewildered look] I can drink it all by myself!”
Blessed with another Irish stereotype, the gift of gab, some of his observations and comments from the Tour (at least the ones that made the air before getting bleeped out) include such classics as:
“That green appears smaller than a pygmie’s nipple.”
“Watching Phil Mickelson play golf is like watching a drunk man chase a balloon
near the edge of a cliff.”
“That ball is so far left, Lassie couldn’t find it if it was wrapped in bacon.”
Jim Furyk’s swing “…looks like an octopus falling out of a tree.”
Of his drinking, he says “I didn’t quit drinking because I was a bad drunk. I quit because I was a spectacular drunk. It got to be like a video game, where you get to the highest level and it’s not even a challenge.”
At 12:00 noon on September 15, Feherty will appear on behalf of Arapahoe House to speak about his life in golf and living in recovery from drugs and alcohol in the Sewell Grand Ballroom in the Bonfils Complex in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 1101 13th St. His rehabilitative tool is humor; he knows the healing value of laughter and wit and uses that tool to charm all in his path. Proceeds from the event will benefit the life-changing addiction treatment programs of Arapahoe House.
For tickets and more information about the event, go to ArpahoeHouse.org or call 303-312-3643.