The bid comes from the very back of the packed Hilton Americas-Houston ballroom, from a table where the stage at the front sometimes only seems like a rumor. The table is so far back that the auctioneer has trouble even noticing the bid — finally, a few young ladies at a neighboring back table take matters into their own hands and start shrieking and wildly gesturing to bring attention to the money man.
And just like that a round of golf with Houston Astros owner Jim Crane goes for 40 grand.
OK, it's a little more than just a round of golf — the high bidder and five of his friends will play with Crane and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens at Crane's Floridian National Golf Club. And they'll be given a lift to the club on Crane's private jet.
It's all for Texas Children's Cancer Center — with the $40,000 back table bid just the most visible demonstration of fund-raising power of a recent night dubbed "An Evening with Golf Legends." With irreverent (and that's putting it lightly) golf TV commentator David Feherty interviewing (which consists mostly of trading raunchy, hilarious stories with) Paul Azinger, Ken Venturi, Butch Harmon and Mark O'Meara on stage, more than $750,000 is brought in for the hospital overall.
"I know you must have done some serious crack, Kenny," Feherty says, leaving the white-haired Venturi speechless.
With Crane — the Best CEO Golfer in America — and his wife Franci chairing the night, it sets an attendance record for a Texas Children's event, packing 1,200 into the ballroom. Including at least one bigwig in a last-row table.
It is a decidedly masculine night with the main course essentially consisting of meat — and more meat. Crane knows the golf audience and they respond. This is the rare benefit dinner where there are several tables of all guys. No wives dragging their husbands out for the fancy fundraiser this night.
And Feherty quickly sets a tone of anything goes.
"I haven't molested a child in nine months," he cracks early in his remarks, while running down why he's fit for his hard-earned American citizenship, drawing plenty of groans. Which only encourages him.
Later, the Irish cutup reveals that he is on Ritalin for attention deficit disorder.
"They have a pill for stupid here in America," he says. "Talk about genius!
"I take 180 milligrams a day. You think I'm joking, but I do."
Serious Golf Debates
Azinger — the rare captain of a U.S. winning Ryder Cup team — slips in some serious talk about studying the Navy SEALs' training methods to come up with his successful pod system (Azinger divided the teams into groups of four that always played and practiced together, building tight small bonds within the team). But mostly, Feherty goes off on riffs and the others go along.
Or are dragged along.
Take Feherty's recall of the 1991 Ryder Cup he played in — the storied so-called War by the Shore. The U.S. beat the Europeon team Feherty played on that Cup. But that didn't come close to stopping Feherty from getting in on the epic celebrating.
"I'm told it was legendary," Feherty says. "I remember one thing about it . . . vomiting on (Lanny) Wadkins."
"I'm sure he appreciated it," O'Meara breaks in.
"You know, he really didn't," Feherty says.
It is a decidedly masculine night with the main course essentially consisting of meat — and more meat. Crane knows golfers.
Feherty's diatribe on CBS announcer/Houston lover Jim Nantz "sharing a cot" with Fred Couples during their University of Houston days brings even more laughs. Nothing like a well-timed microphone line.
If Feherty is the ultimate ham, Ken Venturi — the 81-year-old former Tour player and longtime TV analyst — is the deadly deadpan man. Time and time again, Venturi slips in a sly line that trumps Feherty's booming laughs.
Several golf nuts leave the Hilton buzzing about the Venturi they never knew on TV. "Venturi is a badass," one fortysomething crows to his buddies.
Of course, Feherty can't help but test the old pro.
"Essentially you played with a set of tire irons," Feherty kids. Or even better . . . "I know you must have done some serious crack, Kenny," Feherty says, leaving the white-haired Venturi momentarily speechless when the discussion veers into drugs in professional golf.
Venturi also receives ribbing for how golf's financial structure has dramatically changed since he made his name at the 1964 U.S. Open.
"I won three million dollars in my (playing) career," Feherty notes. "That's a bad six weeks for (current No. 1) Rory McIlroy. And Kenny won about eight cents."
It is almost like the 1,200 in the crowd have been dropped in the middle of Feherty and Venturi playing a $2 Nassau, listening in as the two get on each other the whole way. Which as Crane knows is exactly what a golf nuts wants to feel.
Several golf nuts leave the Hilton buzzing about the Venturi they never knew on TV. "Venturi is a badass," one crows to his buddies.
Having a flag from one of four golf clubs — Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Crane's own Floridian — on each table is nice. So are the complimentary copies of Azinger's Ryder Cup motivational book under certain seats and the putting contests set up in the long corridor outside of the massive ballroom.
Underwriting chairs Emily Crosswell and Ned Torian and cancer center volunteer leaders Lynn Baird, Shelley Barineau and Flo Crady really did help think of almost everything.
And Texas Children's Cancer Center's rock star, Dr. David Poplack, lays out the real mission behind the night with his usual frank flair.
But really the big golf names bullshitting with each other on stage carries the day and pushes the take for the cancer center higher.
"Did Feherty really get away with that?" O'Meara asks later, with everyone lining up for some pictures.
He did. And it was brilliant. Maybe, they'll book him for Crane's jet next. Roger Clemens always likes a laugh.