David Feherty remembers when he was approached about doing a show in a small theater, telling stories that weaved his life with the game of golf.
Sure, Feherty had become one of the biggest names in golf outside of those actually playing. He was the on-course commentator for CBS with the thick Irish accent and quick wit who also had started hosting a wildly popular show on The Golf Channel where he interviewed the greats of the game.
But this was different. This would essentially be a stand-up gig for a guy that was used to holding court in the clubhouse or at the bar.
There was no way this would work. Right?
“I was very unsure,” Feherty said. “And then they sold 1,600 tickets in Edmonton in November. Holy (cow).”
That was 4½ years ago. The first two dates of “Off Tour” were held in Alberta and the theaters were packed.
“For some reason I do really well in Canada,” Feherty said. “I’m like the David Hasselhoff of Germany when I go to Canada.”
What became clear then is that, regardless of where, people can’t get enough of hearing Feherty tell his stories. From tales of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to his interactions with today’s stars like Tiger Woods, Feherty’s mix of humor and humility has been a hit.
That combination will be in town along with the return of the PGA Tour when Feherty appears June 27 at the Fox Theatre. That’s a Thursday, the same day the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic begins at Detroit Golf Club.
“It’s basically my life story, if you like, along with stories from people I’ve met over the years,” Feherty said from his home near Dallas. “Irish jokes and fart jokes — a lot of fart jokes for some reason. And you know it’s anecdotal. I tell other people’s stories as well as my own. Stories from Arnold Palmer or Ken Venturi or Lee Trevino. Because if I don’t tell these stories, they’re gonna die. We’re losing these men and you know that’s basically the gist of the show.
“I’ve had a pretty long strange journey to get to where I am now and it’s that story along with other people’s stories. That would be the best way I could describe it.”
Those stories are all meant to make people laugh. And Feherty is good at that. So good, in fact, that one night in Pittsburgh a guy died.
“Hopefully he died laughing,” Feherty said. “That’s the best I could hope for.”
But the laughter doesn’t mean things have always been smooth for Feherty. Far from it, in fact.
While most golf fans know him for his on-air life, Feherty was a golfer first. He turned professional in 1976 and won five times on the European Tour, finishing in the top 10 twice in the Tour’s Order of Merit. He played on the 1991 European Ryder Cup team then spent 1994-95 primarily on the PGA Tour in the United States.
All the while, he was battling alcohol and drugs. Soon his first marriage ended, and he’d lost his playing privileges. With no prospects, Feherty was set up on blind a date in 1995 with Anita. He didn’t make a good first impression but somehow, he got a second date and by the next year the couple had married. They had a daughter and in 1997, Feherty got his shot with CBS.
Things were going well, yet Feherty still battled his addictions. He did his best to beat it but couldn’t get it under control. It wasn’t until an interview with Tom Watson in 2006 that the eight-time major champion looked at Feherty and knew he needed help. The golf legend made sure Feherty found an Alcoholics Anonymous group in Dallas, and has been a guiding hand ever since.
Sobriety lasted more than 10 years until Feherty’s son from his first marriage, Shey, died of a drug overdose in 2017. Feherty admitted recently on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that his son’s death led him to relapse for a short time.
Through it all, Feherty has continued to entertain.
During his “Off Tour” shows, Feherty does his best to share what he’s experienced — good and bad.
“All of it was sort of, it was all caused by golf. It’s golf’s fault,” said Feherty, who in 2015 left CBS to join NBC full time. “I get a good reaction from (sharing personal stories). … I think people appreciate that.”
Feherty hopes the fans in Detroit appreciate it. And if not, he knows they’ll love having the Tour back in Michigan.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic is the first regular PGA Tour event in Michigan since the Buick Open ended its run at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc in 2009.
“It’s about time,” Feherty said. “I always said that Flint was… there are great golf fans all over the United States but nowhere were they as good as they were in Flint. We used to call them the Flintstones. And the Buick Open was one of my favorites to play in. It was one of my favorites to broadcast as well at Warwick Hills. Just great people. It’s about time golf is back.”
It is back, and thanks to Feherty, there will be plenty of laughs along the way.
Feherty Off Tour
When: 7:30 p.m., June 27
Where: Fox Theatre
Tickets: Starting at $55 and available at Ticketmaster, as well as the Fox Theater and Little Caesars Arena box offices.