Golf Commentator David Feherty hasn't recovered. He's made that clear in his address at the Waggoners Foundation Speaking Series fall luncheon at the Hilton Americas-Houston on Friday. He's not cured of alcoholism or addiction, he's just not drunk right now. The luncheon benefited the Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston.
"I take life 20 minutes at a time," Feherty, a former golf pro from Northern Ireland, has been sober since 2006. Aside from all that golf stuff, he's known for his gloriously irreverent sense of humor as well as being open about his battles with alcoholism and depression. Feherty was both hilarious and candid in telling his story to a crowd of more than 1,000 people on Friday.
He came from a family rife with alcoholism, but there were things in his own life, namely his first marriage, which he described as "an 11-year hostage incident, that basically made everything worse. When he met the woman who would become his second wife, Anita, he was drinking two and a half bottles of Irish whiskey a day and downing about 40 Vicodin, he said. "I became, as Pink Floyd would say, comfortably numb," he said. "My sweetheart wife, love of my life, she inherited whatever was left of me, which was not much."
She asked him to try being sober for 90 days. Feherty thought about it, and he knew it was going to be hard, he knew he probably couldn't do it, but he decided he owed it to her to try. He was sober for 150 days.
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Feherty's story was as much about where he came from as about himself. He described the Northern Ireland he grew up, the bombings, the unrest, a culture where someone who quit drinking was looked on with disapproval. "My father drank like a Halibut. It's all over my family. It's all across the land I'm from," he said.
When Feherty went home for his father's birthday his 150 days of sobriety ended. They walked into the house and there was a bottle of Bush Mills whiskey and his father. His father looked at the bottle, and looked at his son, his hands working the cork, trying to get it open. "There's a stigma in Northern Ireland about anyone who gives up alcohol," Feherty said, noting that it's not like he was getting sober because he was just an unskilled drinker. "I drink two and a half bottles of Irish whiskey a day. And I'm functional. I'm not giving it up because I'm a bad drunk. I'm giving it up because I'm spectacular at it."
But he had that first drink with his father, his 150-day stretch was broken and he was facing the same problems again, in part because he couldn't wrap his mind around sobriety for the rest of his life. He was willing to trade a longer life for the comfort of booze and pills and whatever else he could get. He was working on Prince Edward Island when golf pros Tom Watson and Jack Niklaus talked him into going to a meeting. Watson by telling him he looked "unwell" and Niklaus by loudly agreeing with Watson that Feherty looked "like crap."
That was the beginning of sobriety, but Feherty said it's something he's always watching out for, because if he has "one more drink" that will be the end of him (since he won't stop at one.) He warns his kids about it, how they have to be aware that they're coming from a genetically stacked deck. "It's like chaining yourself to an F-150. You don't know how long the chain is, but one day it'll get tight," he said.