Sometimes we get to talk to important people in the golf world. When we do, we try to ask them questions they don't always get. Welcome to our new occasional feature The Back 9, where we do just that. This week, we have the highly entertaining David Feherty on the other side of the mic.
Q: First thing's first. Do you have a relationship with (U.S. Open champion) Graeme McDowell, seeing as though you both are from the same area?
Feherty: The odd thing is, I don't know him particularly well, and I became an American citizen on the 23rd of February and since then people from Northern Ireland have been winning majors and other tournaments. It's almost like they've been waiting for me to leave. But, Graeme is a great kid, and we have a long history of sports heros that come from Nothern Ireland in particular.
Graeme is a great guy and plays the golf course. The only different between Royal Portrush and Pebble Beach is the seagulls at Pebble Beach are sober.
Q: People from my generation know you as the voice of golf, but you were a really good golfer back in your day. Explain to us how hard it is to play at the level these guys play at week in and week out?
Feherty: I think it's particularly difficult for them to understand right now because of the impression that we're liable to give them. Golf courses are so much harder even 10 or however many years ago.
Virtually every player that tees it up every week is capable of winning, it didn't used to be like that. Golf courses are so much harder, and all you have to do is look at old footage of old majors, even at Augusta, when the greens were bermuda and Jack (Nicklaus) whacking that putt up 16 that he made in 1975.
Byron Nelson was asked several years ago what the greatest technical improvement was in the game of golf in his lifetime which was a considerable amount of time and he said the lawnmower, and he was dead right. Never mind the shaft or ball or whatever, golf courses are so much faster than they used to be and such much more difficult as a result.
Q: When you played, when you would go course to course, were the courses as similar as they are now? It seems like they all run the same, and play to similar conditions.
Feherty: There is more similarity here than there is in Europe. One minute we'd be playing in Tunisia, and it was half desert, half goat s**t, and the next minute you're in the Canary Islands and then Northern Sweden where it would be mud, and we just didn't play in anywhere near the great conditions they have here, and there is a tendency to standardize. I like the different conditions. I like that you go from Augusta to Hilton Head, where the greens are slow and grainy. It's like tennis, they play on four or five different surfaces, I don't see why golf isn't played on different surfaces. Not everything has to be bent grass and shiny quick. It's nice if there's some grain that has to be read into it, and nice if it's slower at times with more slope.
Q: Speaking of playing on different conditions, St. Andrews is coming up. I was out there last week, and I stood on the new 17 tee, and it hardly looks like you can play it. Caddies were saying that the shorter hitters might have to play it up No. 2 and play it like a par-5. Do you like the changes there?
Feherty: Left of the hotel? They won't hit it over the barn?
Q: Right. The caddies are saying that the shorter hitters, if the wind is in their face at all, they're going to play it up No. 2, and play the second shot short of the bunker and if they don't get it up and down they make bogey.
Feherty: Well, you know, it's always been that way. People have always played St. Andrews up the wrong hole. The thing about St. Andrews is, there will be a place, even though the green is two acres, depending on where they put the flag sticks, there is a 30-yard strip of fairway that you need to be in to get it close, otherwise you just don't have a shot.
Q: And do you like that type of golf? Do you think it's fun and do you think these guys enjoy it?
Feherty: I love St. Andrews. Absolutely adore it. It's designed by shape, and you can hit 100 yards left, but you won't be able to play the golf course. You'll find bunkers that you didn't even know were there. You'll find people out playing that are hide-and-seek champions. It's a beautiful place, too. As ugly as it can look, in the early morning and the evening, when the shadows start to fill in the swells and the bunkers, it's kind of a holy place, a graveyard almost.
Q: Do you think Tiger has a great shot at winning again or is there too much going on with him?
Feherty: I think Tiger will start as favorite at St. Andrews. He's playing himself into form. To finish fourth in the last two majors with what he's got going on inside his head is a stunning achievement. People that haven't been through a divorce don't understand how it just destroys your life, and it doesn't matter whose fault it is. There are children involved and you're just devastated. Golf is a game that you have such long spans in between the action. It isn't a reaction sport where your mind is occupied. How you can stop your thoughts from drifting to the stuff that's bothering you, I don't know. I just know it ended my career, my divorce. I just was lucky enough to be the right immigrant in the right bar when CBS was looking for someone to hire.
People wonder if Tiger will recover and if he'll ever be as good. Yeah, he will, he'll be better. I don't think we've seen the best of him yet. The only mistake I've ever made in commentating about him is underestimating him.
Q: It just seems like nobody completely understands how hard it is to win as many times as he has won.
Feherty: The greatest records in all of sports is Nicklaus' major records and Tiger's cut streak, of 140-whatever it was. Nobody comes even close. You just can't imagine how difficult it is to win one (major), never mind 18.
Feherty: It was fascinating. It was four Americans with four different stories that only happen in America. Rice's story was a great example. Born in segregated Alabama, she learns French as a classical pianist. She's an ice skater. People don't skate in Birmingham, Alabama, if there's ice, they fall down. It's a stunning story, and it can't really happen anywhere else.
You've got Charles Kelley from Lady Antebellum, who just became an overnight sensation, who was building houses in North Carolina and bumped into Hillary Scott who was dumped twice from the early stages of "American Idol," where they just basically make fun of the mentally handicapped. She was told she was useless, and apparently she's not.
Anthony Kim, son of a Korean immigrant, and he could have been a gang member as easily as tour member. His moment came at the Ryder Cup, when he realized kinda like I did, that it isn't a political or geographical thing, it's an emotional thing. He is one of the most exciting players to watch on tour. He loves to compete, and he particularly loves the Ryder Cup, and being able to represent the United States.
Sam Bradford could have been a Rhodes Scholar, probably would have been picked number one if he chose not to finish school at Oklahoma, but ended up sitting out most of his last season with a shoulder injury, the same one that I have. He had the surgery done and eight months rehab and then had his pro day, which is conducted in total silence, and he scored off the charts. His low score in golf is 63, so he can play. So can Charles Kelley, and Condi Rice is a great athlete, she's going to be good at the game too, you can tell.
Q: So if Bradford and Tony Romo are going out for 18 holes, who are you taking?
Feherty: That's a tough one, they're both good. That would be a good match. That's a coin toss.
But the show finishes with my day of golf, where 24 soldiers from all over the country, but most of them amputees. Tiger came and visited with them, and it was a surprise, and it was real special for them. It was a special day for me just to be around them.
- David Feherty