Something has been bothering me for two days, and it makes me wonder about my place in the world.
I think of myself as a journalist. I hope others do, too. I studied journalism at Wichita State. I’ve been in the newspaper business since I was 17 years old. I’ve learned from people who value the role of
journalism and a free press in American society. There are even those who believe the nation would crumble without it, even in this age of social media in which everybody is a “journalist.”
So what is David Feherty?
He covers the PGA Tour as part of CBS’ golf team. He’s clever, smart and entertaining. He has his own popular show on The Golf Network and he knows the game, its rules and its accepted behavior.
Golf is a gentleman’s game. Gentle men play it.
So here’s what’s bugging me.
During Saturday’s early third-round play in the PGA Championship, at Valhalia Golf Club in Louisville, Australia’s Jason Day hit an errant tee shot on No. 2. The ball sailed to the left of Floyds Fork, a stream that is the primary water feature on Valhalia, and into some deep rough. Very deep rough.
I questioned whether Day’s ball could be found in the allotted five minutes. Day, who was just a shot behind tournament leader Rory McIlroy at the time, looked perplexed as two people looked for Day’s ball. One was his caddie, which of course no one would have an issue with. The other was Feherty, who had rolled up his pant legs and waded across the creek to the other side.
Before I discuss my opinion on this, I want to ask again: What is David Feherty?
Is he a journalist? Because if he is, then what is he doing looking for Day’s ball?
One of the first things we’re taught in journalism school is that we shouldn’t interject ourselves into the stories we’re covering. That’s a big no-no.
But isn’t that what Feherty was doing by looking for Day’s ball?
Let me provide a what-if here.
Let’s say Day’s ball eluded those who were searching for it until the very end of the five minutes that are allowed. Let’s say he was about to give up and drop a ball – which would resulted in a penalty – when Feherty suddenly finds the ball. Day goes on to play the hole and makes a par, which is what happened Saturday. Except that Feherty wasn’t the one who found the ball; it was discovered by caddie Colin Swatton.
But say Feherty had found the ball. Day gets the par instead of a bogey – or worse – and goes on to win the tournament by a shot.
Feherty would have had an obvious influence on the outcome of the PGA Championship. Would CBS have been OK with that? Would everyone who has sat in a journalism classroom in their lives been OK with that?
Surprisingly, at least to me, there has not been much outrage about this. Perhaps it’s because Day did not go on to win. But there wasn’t even much said at the time, even on Twitter where controversies usually blow up immediately. I, however, was immediately incensed that Feherty was looking for Day’s ball.
Feherty is directed by CBS, I assume, to provide on-course commentary and reporting. By that definition, then, he is a journalist. That’s what journalists do – they report. And they are mandated to be unbiased in their reporting.
Feherty was asked about this situation by reporters, to which he replied. Here is an excerpt from Golf Digest:
Though far from the first time Feherty has assisted a competitor in finding an errant shot during a tournament, the former tour player was surprised by the reaction his gesture provoked, particularly because McIlroy is a fellow countryman from Northern Ireland.
“I got some crap on social media about it, that I shouldn’t have been helping him,” Feherty said, shaking his head. “And then I caught some flak from the Northern Ireland people asking me why I should help Jason against Rory. The reason is because I would help anybody. That’s how we do this in this game. That’s the spirit of it.”
If Feherty and other on-course reporters are helping competitors find golf balls during tournaments, shouldn’t that practice stop immediately? What am I missing here?
“That’s how we do this in this game? That’s the spirit of it.”
Again, I’m at a loss here to understand what makes these golf reporters any different from other reporters. I realize that helping golfers find their hard-to-find balls is the gentlemanly thing to do. I depend on those I play with to help me frequently, because I hit a lot of bad shots.
But I’m not in a tournament and they’re not reporters. They’re fellow players.
Feherty is not a fellow player, though he might think of himself as one. If so, he shouldn’t. He wears a different hat now. And he shouldn’t be helping a player look for his ball during a tournament. He should tell us if that player is having success finding his ball. And that’s it.