David Feherty is a bipolar recovering alcoholic and former touring golf pro who also happens to be one of the best interviewers on TV.
When Feherty debuted on the Golf Channel, did you purposely decide to be vulnerable and talk so openly about yourself?
None of it is planned. Like when Jack Nicklaus was on. He was talking about his father. My father has Alzheimer’s now, and I don’t know what to do for my mother, or how to approach my father. So I asked Jack for advice. He said, “Just love him. Just be there for him.” And it was a powerful moment. I’m at an advantage – all of my skeletons are out of the closet. I’m as fucked up as they come. I have to take 13 pills a day to be this normal.
What did you learn from your years of alcoholism?
It didn’t work for me when I was drinking. Nobody knew I had a drinking problem, until I showed up one day and was sober. A good drunk is worse than a bad drunk, because it’s going to kill you and people aren’t even going to notice. When I wrote my first book, a novel, I was hammered. I wrote it in a whiskey-induced coma. At one point I set my swimming pool on fire. Shot a tree in half in the backyard. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to write once I sobered up – that that’s where creativity came from. But if I hadn’t gone through that, I don’t think I’d have the viewpoint I have today. Now nothing matters other than the time I have left. I don’t live one day at a time – I live 20 minutes at a time. It drives my wife Anita crazy because I can’t think of what I’m doing tomorrow.
What turned you around?
The feeling I was failing my wife and daughter. Eight years ago, when she was seven, my daughter climbed on top of me and put her forehead on mine. I was on a La-Z-Boy with a bottle of Bushmills on the table beside me. I was half-man, half-mattress. And she’s smiling and says, “Dad, you need another bottle.” And I sent her to get one. Because I wasn’t where I needed to be yet. I’ll never forget her saying that to me, and it was part of the turning point.
He speaks about his depression in a 2013 interview
There’s no mystery to Feherty’s behavior. Six years ago, in a widely read Golf Magazine profile, the retired tour pro admitted to years of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse — a dance with clinical depression that had him drinking more than two bottles of Irish whiskey per day. The underlying diagnosis is Bipolar I disorder, a form of manic-depressive illness. Hypomanic symptoms consistent with Bipolar I include “inflated self-esteem, flight of ideas, distractibility, and decreased need for sleep” — which pretty much describes Feherty’s forgetfulness, his rants, and his four-in-the-morning trips to the garage to cut rifle-barrel threads on a lathe.
“Everybody’s brain chemistry is different,” says Feherty, freely conceding that his resembles the formula for Sara Lee lemon-meringue pie. Along with a daily regimen of antidepressants and mood-stabilizers he takes “an enormous dose” of amphetamines. (“They make other people hyper, but they make me relaxed.”) He wears his pharmaceutical leash grudgingly, but it’s way better than the despondency that engulfs him if he doesn’t take his meds.
“And occasionally I don’t,” he admits. “I have the brilliant idea that I’m all right now, that I’m no longer depressed.”
Asked to describe his depressive episodes, he stares at his hands. “I feel a hollowness inside that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”
There’s no punch line. No kicker. That’s unusual for Feherty, who has been making people laugh since he assumed the “class jester” role at his school in Bangor, N.I., a Belfast exurb. Bangor is where he began, as he puts it, “playing the part of me.”
Here, for instance, is how Feherty, playing “Feherty,” talks about his alcoholism:
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!”
You can’t help but laugh. But if you’re Feherty, you’re wondering what kind of damage the whiskey and pills did to your ruminative organ. And you’re asking Anita why, in a country where Debbie Does Dallas can be overnighted with a single click of the mouse, there’s a two-month wait to get a brain scan.
Make sure you watch this amazing interview with Tom Watson where Watson talks about his own addiction and the intervention that he held that saved David Feherty’s marriage and life.