Belfast Telegraph

David Feherty: Most days I downed two bottles of whiskey and took cocaine... only my wife's love saved me

David Feherty’s 80s heyday was marred by a downward spiral into addiction and depression. Here, the golfer turned pundit reveals he still battles some of those demons

By Claire McNeilly

"When I think about it now I'm like, why am I alive?"

These are the distressing words of David Feherty, who has revealed the full shocking history of his alcohol and substance abuse.

The former Northern Ireland golf star has spoken at length about his battle with addiction, adding that he can't believe he's still around after what he's gone through.

Bangor man Feherty, now a popular sports presenter in the United States, said: "A typical day was 30-40 Vicodin and two-and-a-half bottles of whiskey…real whiskey. Whiskey with an 'e'".

The 57-year-old, who was released by CBS earlier this year and has now joined rival station NBC Sports, added: "There was cocaine, there was dope. When I think about it now I'm like, why am I alive?"

Other Feherty revelations include going on a two-day bender after winning the Scottish Open in 1986, getting addicted to painkillers early in his career, and the role his second wife Anita (57) and the golf legend Tom Watson played in his recovery.

He says he has not touched alcohol since 2005 but still struggles with depression and takes a mixture of anti-depressants, mood stabilisers and amphetamines - a total of 14 pills every day.

Feherty's daily regimen includes anti-depressants (Cymbalta), anti-psychotics (Abilify, Klonopin), stimulants (Adderall, Vyvanse), mood stabilisers (Lamictal), cholesterol (Lipitor) and blood pressure meds (Avalide) and sleep aids (Ambien).

After his post-Scottish Open binge he awoke on a putting green 150 miles away with no recollection of how he got there, or what happened to the trophy he'd just won.

"That was back when I was really just getting into not just golf and being successful, but the rush of performing in front of a bunch of people and applause and adulation," he said.

"I didn't know it at the time, but I'm bipolar and it was something to deal with the strangeness in my life. I got addicted to painkillers fairly early. And that's where I needed to be at the time.

"I'm from Northern Ireland, so I remember the last physical I had with my doctor where alcohol became a problem.

"He looked at the numbers and said: 'Hey, have you ever thought about getting help?' And I said: 'No, I can drink it all by myself."

He added: "The Scottish Open incident was kind of during the ascent of those problems. I headed into Glasgow that night to a concert and woke up two days later at Gleneagles, which was 150 miles away.

"It's still confusing to this day. Oh, and the Scottish Open trophy is still lost. God only knows where the hell it is."

Feherty - who bared his soul in an intimate interview with Rolling Stone magazine - was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder in the late 1990s, and said his struggles with depression were compounded by the fact he was also an insomniac.

"I get overwhelmed by sadness several times a day and spend a lot of time in tears," he said.

"The Adderall is enough to tear most people off the ceiling, but I can take a nap."

Texas-based Feherty, who is renowned for his funny, acerbic commentaries, said he was indebted to Anita, with whom he has a daughter Erin (17), and eight-time Major winner Watson for getting him straightened out.

He has two sons, 26-year-old Shey and Rory (23) with his first wife Caroline, a South African beauty queen whom he divorced in 1995. A mutual friend introduced him to divorcee Anita Schneider, a successful interior designer with two sons of her own, Fred (32) and 30-year-old Karl.

"I was doing a TV thing in Canada with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson and at one point Tom (who had overcome similar problems) just put his hand over the camera and said: 'You're not well, are you?' And I said: 'No, I'm not,'" Feherty said.

"I asked him how he knew, and he said: 'I can see it in your eyes.' And I said: 'What do you see?' He said: 'My reflection'."

He added: "I didn't know that Tom had a problem at that point. Very few people did. He said: 'You need to come with me when we're done here'.

"I went with Tom and he looked after me for two or three days and I've been sober ever since.

"But I would emphasise it has a great deal to do with my wife as well. When I met her I was penniless, I had lost my playing privileges in the United States, I was homeless, I had a vehicle, that was all I had, because I had been through this horrifying divorce.

"I was just a penniless, homeless, alcoholic drug addict and she looked at me and said: 'Well, I can fix that'".

Feherty, who has built up a reputation of being an incisive interviewer, said his success was partly based on having nothing to hide.

"One of the advantages of having a f*****-up life is that other people are more comfortable telling you about theirs," he said.

"I see from a different side of the street than most people."

Feherty, the middle child of three, and son of Billy (90), who worked as a surveyor at Belfast docks, and personal secretary Violet (85) initially trained to be an opera singer before his voice broke.

When he dropped out of Bangor Grammar School at 17 to play golf he had already been drinking heavily for a year.

Even so he won five tournaments in Europe and three in South Africa and he contended at two Opens, vying with eventual winner Mark Calcavecchia for the Claret Jug in the final round at Troon in 1989.

The greatest impact he made as a player in the US was at the Ryder Cup in 1991 when he beat American Payne Stewart in a Sunday singles match to give the European team a shortlived lead at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

His first wife left him for a new life in Dallas in 1993 along with the couple's children. Feherty followed, but they divorced two years later.

By that time he was already a fully-fledged alcoholic, and after finishing 166th on the 1995 PGA tour he lost his tournament playing privileges.

That same year, however, he met Anita, who walked out of the restaurant during their first date after the out-of-control Feherty, who showed up late, downed her drink.

Following an apology and a successful second date the couple married 10 months later in May 1996, and were ultimately granted legal custody of Feherty's sons. Apart from his family, the Ulsterman's other love is the Feherty Troops First Foundation, which he co-founded in 2008.

The foundation has raised millions of dollars for US soldiers wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I grew up in an urban warfare environment in Northern Ireland, so I'm used to sectarianism, murders, troops on the streets, bombs going off, an enemy that wouldn't wear a uniform and hid behind women and children," he said.

"I visited Iraq in 2007 to see what Americans were doing over there, and it was a great job in incredibly trying circumstances. I came home determined to do something for them, and that's how the foundation came about."

He added: "The soldiers all come back changed in some way, physically or mentally.

"I understand the mental part of it.

"I suffer from what I call pre traumatic stress disorder; I'm pretty sure something s*** is going to happen but I don't know when.

"It's the story of my life, I suppose."

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