Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Feherty talks with golf's biggest newsmakers for season's fantastic finish

The list of guests joining David Feherty to help close out the successful second season of his hit primetime series on Golf Channel will feature some of golf’s biggest newsmakers, including golf super-agent Chubby Chandler, two-time major champion Fuzzy Zoeller, a host of patriotic stars for a special Independence Day show, Hall-of-Fame player and commentator Peter Alliss, and one of the most enigmatic personalities in the history of golf, John Daly.

Debuting in 2011 as the most-watched premiere of an original series in Golf Channel history, Feherty has maintained its momentum in 2012, moving to a new night and lifting the network’s Monday primetime lineup ratings by 64 percent year over year.

On tonight’s new episode (10 p.m. ET), Feherty takes a ride to the Florida coast to interview golf super-agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, founder of England-based International Sports Management and manages a stable of golfers including World No. 3 Lee Westwood, Open Championship winners Darren Clarke and Louis Ousthuizen and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel. Feherty and Chandler’s relationship spans nearly four decades when both men played on the African Tour and were “sunburned and penniless.” 

Their conversation includes the origination of his “Chubby” nickname, early life on tour, Chandler’s decision to start a management company, the significance of signing Darren Clarke as an amateur in 1990, and the departure and shock of losing Rory McIlroy as a client following McIlroy’s U.S. Open victory in 2011.

On July 2, Feherty celebrates the U.S. military and Independence Day with a diverse group of American patriots at the Patriot Cup golf tournament and gala, hosted by the Folds of Honor Foundation and The Patriot Golf Course in Tulsa, Okla. In an enormous hangar with antique warbirds serving as a backdrop, Feherty visits with PGA TOUR pros Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane to talk about their careers, the origins of the Golf Boys and their fellow group member Bubba Watson’s career-changing Masters victory, and the impact social media can have in golf. Conversations with other participating golfers include Corey Pavin and Tom Lehman talking about the significance of the Ryder Cup, and Craig Stadler and Gary Woodland providing insight about playing pro golf in separate generations. Feherty also sits with country music star Vince Gill and actor Craig T. Nelson to talk about the entertainment industry’s impact on golf, and tries to convince country music group Rascal Flatts that he should become its opening act. Feherty also squeezes in a ride in an F-16 fighter jet with Major Dan Rooney.

Two-time major champion Fuzzy Zoeller sits down with Feherty for the July 9 episode, which was shot at Zoeller’s southern Indiana estate. In addition to compelling conversation about the state of golf, his controversial comments about Tiger Woods after Woods’ historic 1997 Masters victory and the next chapter in his life – which includes a new venture into the vodka making business and car racing sponsorship – the two men try their hand at fishing and Feherty creates hilarious moments with some of the animals on Zoeller’s farm.

On the cusp of his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May, Peter Alliss, former player and the charismatic BBC television golf commentator for nearly 40 years, sat with Feherty to discuss his life in the game, which included 21 tournament victories, eight Ryder Cup appearances and a stellar commentating career, which earned him the nickname as “The Voice of Golf.” On the July 23 episode, the two men discuss the current state of golf – Alliss is a big proponent of faster play – and share some great stories along the way. Perhaps the most poignant part of the interview is when Alliss talks about the death of his daughter, Victoria, who was born with irreparable brain damage and died at age 11.

On the series' final episode on July 30, Feherty travels to Dardenelle, Ark., and the home of John Daly to find out how Daly has become one of the least- and most-liked personalities in golf, and if “Long John” has any shot in recapturing some of his glory days on tour. In between playing golf, serenading Daly’s girlfriend and enjoying a traditional Arkansas barbecue in the backyard of Daly’s home, Feherty reveals how Daly’s party image was created and how he has dealt with the aftermath; how his four marriages have not turned him away from love, but made him more cautious; how his father’s abusive discipline have influenced his desire to be a better father; and if he lives to the age of 50, whether or not playing on the Champions Tour is in his future. Parts of the interview take place in front of a huge, hand-painted mural in Daly’s home that is supposed to depict his extraordinary – and unlikely – moment in the sun in 1991 when he won the PGA Championship as an alternate. Daly says he not only dislikes the depiction, he also says it is inaccurate. Daly and Feherty come up with a plan to make their own surprising corrections to the painting.

Called "a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Johnny Carson" by The New York Times, Feherty displays an uncanny interview style that engages his subjects and brings out answers both honest and revealing. This season, Feherty has gone one-on-one with celebrities across golf, sports and entertainment including former President Bill Clinton, golf legend Bill Russell, real estate magnate Donald Trump, actor Samuel L. Jackson, and golfers Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Michelle Wie.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Zhang, 14, youngest Open golfer since WWII

The site of one of golf's great miracles no longer exists. It was a run-down driving range in Beijing, one of those two-tiered setups, and it was torn down a few years back. So if you happen to be in China, looking for the place where it all started for Andy Zhang, you'll be out of luck.

Not many people, not even back home, know the story of the 14-year-old player who has found his way into the U.S. Open field. The sport only recently has ascended in Zhang's native land, which might explain why there was no sign of a Chinese media contingent as the kid played a practice round Tuesday morning.
It is known that Zhang hails from Florida, where he has lived since he was 10. It's known that that he qualified to play at the Olympic Club - the youngest to play the U.S. Open since World War II - only because two players withdrew.

The remarkable part is how he began playing golf in the first place.

"It was coincidence," he told two reporters as he sat out a backlog on the 3rd tee. "My dad liked to play for fun - usually shot in the high 90s - and he took me to this range when I was 6 1/2 years old. I hit a few balls, and after a while this Korean guy came up to me. It was something like, 'Would you like to play some golf?' "
Zhang doesn't remember the man's name, "but it was An Qi Huan in Chinese," he said. "He wanted to coach me. He took me on."

The kid must have had a hell of a swing. But think about it: What if the man hadn't been there that day?
"I wouldn't be here," Zhang said. "I might not even be a golfer. I'd be in school somewhere."
As he began working with the Korean coach, he convinced his mother, Hui Li, that golf would be his future. "My mom quit her job when I was 8 and was there to support me ever since," he told "She brought me to Florida to play tournaments." 

Zhang enrolled at the famed Ledbetter Academy in Bradenton, set up a permanent home in Florida, and now plays out of Reunion Resort in Davenport.

A polite kid who speaks a very Americanized English, Zhang entered the sectional qualifying last week at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla. There was a U.S. Open spot on the line, but he lost in a playoff.
"I was really depressed," he said. "That was my chance right there to make history."
Saddened, Zhang's father headed back to China after watching the event, but not before telling his son, "Go to San Francisco. You probably won't get in, but go."

At 7:40 a.m. EDT Monday, Zhang boarded a flight from Orlando to San Francisco, connecting through Phoenix. Space was tight - "I was way back in the far corner, next to the bathroom" - but he got his seat. He landed at 12:30 San Francisco time, checked into a hotel and headed straight to the Olympic Club.
As the second alternate, he needed two players to withdraw - and that's exactly what happened: first Brandt Snedeker, then Paul Casey.

"I was on the putting green, trying to act cool, when I found out," he said. "At first my mind went blank. Then I said, 'Wait! What? I'm in the U.S. Open? I just started screaming, hugging my mom and Chris," referring to Chris Gold, his caddie and part-time coach.

Checking into the locker room, Zhang was assigned stall No. 483, and according to, he was astonished: "The whole thing? This whole locker is mine?" Watching him out on the course Tuesday morning, though, was to see a very composed, mature player, solidly built (6 feet, 185 pounds) with a fine balance of raw power and finesse around the greens. 

One of his playing partners was the formidable Bubba Watson, who said later, "It's cool that he got in. It was fun talking to him, although he didn't say much. His game's good. At 14, he's got some growing up to do, but it's not like this luckily happened. You have to be able to play to get here."
Watson's caddy, Ted Scott, called it "an awesome story. I told him, don't let anyone tell you you're not supposed to be here. A lot of great players aren't here. I wouldn't want to play him for money, I know that."
Could he really be that young?

"He looks 25," said Scott, "until he smiles, and then you see the braces."

Golf has become a wildly popular sport in Korea and Japan, with spectacular results on both the men's and women's tours. That hasn't been the case in China, although things are changing fast. 

On Sunday at the LPGA Championships in Pittsford, N.Y., Shanshan Feng became the first Chinese player to win on the LPGA tour. On Monday, Zhang was granted his historic entry at the U.S. Open. That might be recalled as a two-day sequence for the ages.

"I take pride in representing China," he said. "It's my dream to someday play for my country in the Olympics. Golf hasn't really developed much in China, but we're getting there. You come to America and you play all these wonderful courses. Back home, if you go to the driving range, you're usually hitting off a mat, not real grass."

Not such a bad thing, if you're lucky. Zhang proved that when he was 6 years old. Now he's got an 8:21 tee time Thursday for the first round of the U.S. Open. In that mythical realm of "out of the blue," this 14-year-old kid steps right to the front.