January 15, 2009
David Feherty is a singular figure in the world of golf. The analyst for CBS Sports is one of the funniest men in the game, and also one of the most fiercely devoted. He took time to speak with Devil Ball this week, and I can say hands-down this is the best interview we've ever had on the site. From glowing golf balls arcing across the Iraqi desert to badger testicles, it's all here. Settle in and enjoy.
David, thanks for talking with us. How's the offseason been treating you?
I went to both Iraq and Mississippi. And I can tell you this, I'd rather go back to Iraq than Mississippi.
Not even touching that one. We might have a couple of the readers in Mississippi. So what did you do in Iraq?
I was part of a USO Tour that was over there during Thanksgiving. Kelly Tilghman, Howard Twitty and Donnie Hammond were there. We'd go to these Forward Operating Bases and put on a golf exhibition. Brian Pavlet and Art Sellinger did these long-drive shows for the troops, and it was something to see.
They hit the ball 400 yards off my zipper! They'd lay me down, get one of those rubber tees that you use on mats at the driving range, I'd shove that up through the third hole of my button fly jeans, they'd put a ball on it, and have at it. When you've got a club coming 200mph right at your plums, that'll wake you up.
Indeed. So what did you learn about the war over there that you didn't already know?
We've got the smartest people in the world over there, and they get progressively dumber the closer you get to Washington. What you think of the war -- whether we should be there, whether we shouldn't -- isn't truly relevant anymore. This is one of the greatest good deeds the world has ever seen. Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world, and we blew right through it. And now you've got Iran pushing in, looking to gain control. It's truly terrifying -- we think in four-year election cycles, and these people think in hundreds of years.
How does a golf guy get so obsessed with international politics?
I've lived so many other places, and it's given me some perspective. The average American wouldn't believe how extraordinary we have it here. Every day I wake up, I think, "Am I still in America? Yes? Thank f---!"
So this is obviously not just a celebrity-appearance thing for you.
Not at all. I just got back from visiting the burn unit at the Brooke Army Medical Unit in San Antonio. That's such a traumatic place to visit; I couldn't sleep last night. You just leave stunned at what the human body can endure.
But every soldier I've talked to - there, at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], anywhere else - I've yet to meet a soldier, a sailor, or a marine who hasn't said, "I want to go back." It doesn't matter how badly they're hurt, they still want to get back with their team. That's something you don't hear on the six o'clock news.
Back here, I've tried to do what I can. In July, I did what I called "the IED of golf" up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. We took 36 amputees out on the course that day. One of them stepped up to the ball on the first tee, hit it 240 yards. Let me tell you, it was the greatest shot I've ever seen, and I've watched Tiger Woods the last 12 years.
There was a Green Beret who wanted to walk with me, was on two prosthetic legs. Had just gotten ‘em. The first day, he walks 12 holes, and I'm just stunned by this guy. No self-pity, such courage and dignity.
The next day he comes back and says he wants to walk all 18. I'm saying, "This is Congressional. Sure you want to don't want to ride in the cart?" A buddy of his leans over to me and says, "It's easier to be the Pope than to be a Green Beret." I got the message.
So this guy is walking with us, his stump is bleeding, he's falling over a couple times. But he wasn't embarrassed, he just popped back up. And As he's walking, I'm thinking, I've got these kinds of people fighting for me. That's what makes me do whatever I can. These guys are American royalty, warrior princes, and we ignore them or humiliate them by making them suffer through things like sitting with their stumps exposed while they're going through airport security. Come on!
I'm not even sure how to follow that, but let's try. Back to golf -- is that something the troops have taken up, or is it something they take to Iraq with them?
A lot of them do take it up over there. They'll set up these indoor nets to make little driving ranges. I was at a Special Forces range in Balad, northwest of Baghdad, and they had this 20 yard-by-10 yard driving range that they'd decorated with these rickety little signs. The "range" was the "Tiger Woods Driving Range," and they had a "John Daly Pro Shop," all kinds of other little decorations. They get off these eight-hour, 12-hour shifts, and it's a great way for them to unwind, busting a few balls into the net. There are probably 15 Forward Operating Bases with these little ranges there.
I was on the Syrian border one night with Tom Watson, and we went out onto these little clay roof of the chaplain's place there. The soldiers covered the golf balls in tracer fluid and we belted them out into the desert. It was something to see. Then one soldier hit a shot that knocked the satellite dish off the roof. The chaplain's there smoking a cigar, and he spits and says, "F---. There goes my ESPN."
It seems almost anticlimactic to talk about golf now, but we might as well. What are you looking forward to most about this season?
I really enjoyed the end of last season, because we got to see a lot of guys in the spotlight that we might not otherwise have seen because Tiger's glow is so bright. AK, Camilo, Geoff, Boo - I'm really looking forward to seeing what these guys can do to follow up last season.
People are already at full-on Tiger fatigue, but you can't avoid talking about the guy.
You can't. I've been fortunate in that I've seen Tiger up close his entire career. I retired about 10 minutes after he turned pro, and I got into announcing. I played with everybody that he was starting out against - Norman, Ballesteros, all those guys - and I knew exactly what they would hit in a given situation. What it was possible for them to hit. And then every round, Tiger would hit a couple shots, and I'd say, "F---, I didn't see that one coming."
You just can't say enough about the guy. He's winning majors by 10, 12, 15 shots. We haven't seen that kind of stuff since the 1800s, when Old Tom Morris was playing with a badger's testicle stuffed with seagull feathers.
What the hell kind of hold does this guy have over the rest of the field, anyway?
That's it, it's a hold. You might be the second-best guy in the tournament, but then you watch him make some unbelievable shot. And you're thinking, I can't just do that ... I've got to do better than that. I lay up here, I'm going to look like a total [kittycat]. So Tiger birdies the hole or eagles it, you make a stupid shot and bogey or double-bogey it, and that's how the gap widens. That's how the pattern goes over four rounds of a tournament.
And that's not to take anything away from the rest of the field. These guys are the greatest golfers that ever lived. It's like the Celtics of today -- they would completely steamroll Larry Bird's Celtics. But these [golfers] today, good as they are, they're playing in the time of a 500-year flood.
When Tiger is playing well, it's just impossible to beat him. Impossible. How the hell are you going to win a major with Tiger in the field? Anybody who wins a major with Tiger around, they should square your total. Phil Mickelson's got nine majors, far as I'm concerned.
Do you see anybody that can challenge him?
Oh, anybody can challenge him. It's beating him that's the question. Anthony Kim is the best young golfer I've seen since Tiger. Camilo Villegas is the real thing; he really wants to be a great player. Hunter Mahan, too. Boo Weekley, he's said he'll retire as soon as he's made enough cash. I hope not. We need Boo galloping around the course. He's great for the game of golf, and he pisses off the people who need to be pissed off.
So you don't think he went over the top at the Ryder.
Of course not. He speaks his mind, and he's a funny guy. Ian Poulter, same thing. That's something else you're going to see this year, the entire European Ryder Cup team hell-bent on playing well. The Europeans played as well in the Ryder Cup as any team ever-and they got beat. That's not going to sit well with those guys, and I think you're going to see them really itching to do well this season.
All right, let's wrap up with what's going to be on your plate this year.
I'm going to be doing a lot of cycling. I almost killed myself last year on a bike, but I'm still getting back on it. I'm going to take a bunch of injured veterans cycling the Tuesday after the Masters down at Hilton Head. We're calling it an "Improvised Explosive Day of Cycling," and I'm hoping to get a segment on 60 Minutes. We've got 8 guys cycling who have 13 bits between them. Trek is already on board with it, and I'm thinking that's going to be a highlight of my year. I'm doing that in connection with Troops First Foundation, which is just a great program to help troops get back into life over here.
I'm still recovering from my wreck last year. I almost got flattened, almost separated my shoulder. But I'm not going to be whining about that anymore; I was talking about that to a soldier, and he looks at me, pulls off his prosthetic leg and says, "That's not separated. This is separated." Mental note: don't talk about your little injuries to soldiers.
But still, man, I'm a lucky guy. Can't wait to see what's going to be next.