One week before Bryson DeChambeau takes his long-driving act to the long-drive circuit, former long-drive champ “Fast” Eddie Fernandes will make his debut on 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. Fastest ball speed? 222.4 mph.
“The fastest guy on the Champions Tour is Phil Mickelson and he’s probably mid-170s ball speed. I’ll be putting up mid-190s to 200-204 (mph). It’s a little bit different,” said Fernandes, who bashed a 480-yard drive inside the grid in a 2018 competition. “I’m just guessing, I’ll be leading the field in driving that week.”
Former U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach Graeme McDowell, who had a thing or two to do with Fernandes receiving a sponsor’s invite, has played a bunch with Fernandes and says he isn’t going to be just a sideshow.
“He’s not just a long driver. He’s a very talented player with a great wedge game, a short game and just super-talented,” McDowell said.
Fernandes grew up playing a par-60 course, won a state championship in high school in Connecticut, five tournaments in college and was named Golfweek’s Division I Player of the Month in November 1989. He turned pro in 1992, but lacked the financial resources and did a stint as a club pro for a while. He tried Q-School in 1997 (missed by one at first stage) and 1998 (missed by two strokes at first stage). He bounced around the mini tours, playing his best golf in 2004 when he won seven mini-tour events in a row, many of them on the Midnight Tour.
“I felt like every time I was going to tee it up,” he said, “I’d shoot 64.”
But when he stalled at second stage of Q-School without earning any status, it was time to find another job to pay the bills. He worked in surveillance and the restaurant business, had three kids and estimated he played a grand total of 20 rounds during 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 (age 45-and-up) and world champion in 2018, as well as the oldest winner of an open division event on the long-drive circuit at age 47. He adopted a motto of #BetterWithAge.
“When you get older, people give up. They say they’re not supposed to. That’s ridiculous,” Fernandes said. “I feel like my purpose is to prove to people that if you’re willing to put the time in and the effort there’s no reason you can’t hit it longer. I’m living proof that you can do that because I gained about 50 yards after the age of 43 years old.”
But making a living as a long-drive contestant, which was always a challenge, became close to impossible when the Golf Channel pulled the plug on its ownership of the circuit. Purses have plunged. Fernandes, however, always was targeting his mid-life mulligan.
“The whole purpose was to use 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 hit the half-century mark in November. “Put up some ridiculous ball speeds, carry it 365 in the air and go out and shoot 67.”
Cracking the senior circuit always has been a tough nut to crack, but it became even harder after COVID hit. That’s where McDowell, who met Fernandes through long driver Martin Borgmeier, worked his magic.
“He’s a natural, easy guy to pull for so I wanted to do everything I could to help him, which basically meant trying to get him starts on the Champions Tour,” McDowell said.
“I was working out and he Face Timed me. He never does that,” Fernandes said. “He said, ‘Are you sitting down lad?’ I said, ‘I was standing up.’ He said, ‘What do you think of your first start on the Champions Tour being Pebble Beach?’ ”
“I was more jacked up than he was,” McDowell recalled.
It’s finally sunk in for Fernandes that his dream of playing at the highest level of senior golf is about to come true.
“I’m just going to take it all in. It’s so cool to be out there with all these guys I’ve watched win majors,” Fernandes said.
His efforts to earn a spot on the senior circuit the old-fashioned way have failed so far. He shot 71 at a pre-qualifier for the senior event in Naples, Florida, and failed to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open. Fernandes pulled out of the XLD World Championships in Chicago due to a groin injury as a precaution to make sure he’s as close to 100 percent for Pebble Beach.
“When I step on the gas fully, I can feel it so I’m just rehabbing every day and practicing,” he wrote in a text. “I keep thinking Tiger won the U.S. Open with a broken leg and a torn ACL. I’ll be fine.”
He’s already looking ahead to the first stage of Q-School, which starts coincidentally on his 51st birthday, Nov. 29, and the final stage at TPC Tampa Bay.
“I don’t want to be a side show,” Fernandes said. “I’m at a very different place now. I’m more confident. I’ve done some very cool things from a long drive perspective and now it’s time to showcase that on the Champions Tour.”