Could long-drive champion ‘Fast’ Eddie Fernandes become the Bryson DeChambeau of PGA Tour Champions? He’ll get a chance at Pebble Beach.
A week before Bryson DeChambeau brings his long drive act to the long drive circuit, former long drive champion "Fast" Eddie Fernandes will debut as PGA Tour Champions at the Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links .
Expect Fernandes, who turned 50 in November, to turn some heads. His fastest club speed? 154.2 miles per hour. Highest ball speed? 222.4 mph.
“The fastest guy on the Champions Tour is Phil Mickelson and he probably has a ball speed of mid-170s. I'll bet 200-204 (mph) in the mid-190s. It's a little different, ”said Fernandes, who hit a 480-yard drive on the grid in a 2018 competition. "I only suspect that this week I'll be leading the field in driving."
Former U.S. Open Pebble Beach Champion Graeme McDowell, who had a thing or two to do with Fernandes receiving a sponsorship invite, has played with Fernandes and says he won't be just a sideshow.
“He's not just a cross-country skier. He's a very talented player with a great wedge game, a short game and just super talented, ”said McDowell.
Eddie Fernandes is number 1 in the world in the Masters Division of Long Drive. (Courtesy Eddie Fernandes)
Fernandes grew up on a par-60 course, won a state championship in Connecticut high school, five college tournaments and was named Division I Player of the Month by Golfweek in November 1989. He turned pro in 1992, but lacked financial resources and made it a club pro for a while. In 1997 he tried Q-School (missed by one stroke in the first phase) and in 1998 (missed two strokes in the first phase). He bounced around on the mini-tours and played his best golf in 2004 when he won seven consecutive mini-tour events, many on the Midnight Tour.
"I had the feeling that every time I hit it," he said, "I would shoot 64."
But when he stalled in the second tier of Q-School without earning a status, it was time to find another job to help pay the bills. He worked in surveillance and in the restaurant business, had three children, and estimated he would play a total of 20 rounds over the next nine years. Then, in late 2013, he watched the Long Drive Championship and it renewed his interest in the game.
“I didn't even know what TrackMan was, but I wanted to know my numbers,” he said.
He became No. 1 in the world in the Masters Division (from 45 years of age) and World Champion 2018 and, at the age of 47, the oldest winner of an Open Division event on the long distance motto of #BetterWithAge.
“When you get older, people give up. They say they mustn't. It's ridiculous, ”said Fernandes. “I feel like my goal is to prove to people that there is no need to stop doing this if you are willing to put the time and effort into it. I am living proof that you can do it, because after I was 43 I put on about 50 meters. "
But making a living as a long-drive contestant, which was always a challenge, became nearly impossible when the Golf Channel pulled the plug on its ownership of the track. Purses have fallen. Fernandes always targeted his midlife mulligan, however.
"The whole purpose was to use the long drive as a platform to get my name out there and have the opportunity to play again when I turned 50 on the Champions Tour," said Fernandes, who made one in November half a century. "Put up some ridiculous ball speeds, carry them 365 in the air, and get out there and shoot 67."
It has always been a tough nut to crack cracking the senior circle, but it got tougher when COVID hit. This is where McDowell, who got to know Fernandes through long-distance driver Martin Borgmeier, worked his magic.
"He's a natural, easy-going guy that I can get excited about, so I wanted to do whatever I could to help him, which basically meant that he was trying to start on the Champions Tour," said McDowell.
“I trained and he gave me face timed. He never does, ”said Fernandes. "He said, 'Are you going to sit down, boy?" I said,' I got up. "He said, 'What do you think about your first start on the Champions Tour in Pebble Beach?" "
"I was fluffier than him," said McDowell.
For Fernandes it is finally clear that his dream of playing senior golf at the highest level will come true.
"I'm just going to take it all in. It's so cool to be out there with all of these guys that I've won at majors," said Fernandes.
His efforts to win a place in the senior group the old-fashioned way have so far failed. He shot 71 in a pre-qualifier for the Naples, Florida seniors event and failed to qualify for the US Senior Open. Fernandes has withdrawn from the XLD World Championships in Chicago as a precaution with a groin injury to make sure he's as close to 100 percent as possible for Pebble Beach.
"When I step on the gas, I feel it, so I rehabilitate and practice every day," he wrote in a text. “I always think Tiger won the US Open with a broken leg and a ruptured cruciate ligament. I'll be fine."
He is already looking forward to the first stage of the Q-School, which coincidentally begins on his 51st birthday, November 29th, and the last stage at TPC Tampa Bay.
"I don't want to be a sideline," said Fernandes. “I'm in a completely different place now. I am more confident. I've done some very cool things from the long drive perspective and now it's time to show that on the Champions Tour. "
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