They call me Fast Eddie now, but back then I was just Ed Fernandes.
It was 2004, I was competing in my fifth PGA Tour Qualifying School, and I was sure it was my year. I’d made the second stage, meaning if I played well, I could get into the finals and earn some kind of tour status. I’d been to Stage 2 once before, but I’d never felt as optimistic as I did this time. Going into the tournament I’d won seven straight mini-tour events—averaging 67.4 strokes per round. I’d coasted through Stage 1.
And then I missed the cut. Peaked too early, I guess. I was 34. My wife, Eileen, was pregnant with our first child, and I just thought, Eddie, it’s time. Time to take a break from golf and get on with life and having a family.
I probably played only 20 rounds between 2004 and 2014. I worked as a video-surveillance consultant and opened my own business. I worked in restaurants. I tried a lot of things. And for a long time, I didn’t miss golf. I was focused on providing for my family. But I guess the itch was hiding there somewhere.
In 2013, a friend mentioned the World Long Drive Championship. “You always hit it really long,” he said. And I did. In high school, at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and on the mini-tours, I was always the longest guy out there. But forever my dream was to play the PGA Tour. It started in 1987 at Southington High School in Connecticut when I qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. I won the state championship’s individual title as a junior while helping our team to the championship. At CCSU, I won five college events, was a four-time all-conference selection, a two-time conference player of the year and a three-time conference champion.
When my friend mentioned the long-drive tour, it sparked something inside me. People told me I was crazy, and although a part of me agreed, my competitive nature took over. People said, “You’re going to go out there and compete against kids half your age? C’mon.” But Eileen was totally supportive. So, I took a chance and became Fast Eddie Fernandes, again. “Fast” Eddie came from Little League. I threw some gas on the mound as a 12-year-old, and coaches and teammates called me Fast Eddie, after Fast Eddie Felson, Paul Newman’s character in the movie “The Hustler.”
How big did I hit it when I decided to give long driving a try? Here are the measurements from my first TrackMan session in 2013 at age 43: Clubhead speed, 134 miles per hour. Ball speed, 196 with my “play” driver that was 11 years old. Not bad. Here’s what I tell kids who are interested in competing: You have to swing at least 125 mph to have a chance. A swing-speed of 140 mph is very good. Elite is 145 or more. Nowadays I use a triple-extra-stiff driver measuring a USGA max length of 48 inches. It has 5 degrees of loft, which I close down to about 3 degrees, so I pretty much hit it with minimal spin. My optimal spin numbers are 1,600 to 2,000 revolutions per minute with a launch angle of 11 degrees.
People ask me, can you make a career as a long driver? You can if you work at it and have the right personality and confidence. To entertain at high-end corporate and charity golf tournaments, you have to look the part, act the part, swing the part and be professional. I partner with a company that books some of my events, and mostly it’s a 50-50 split with the charity. When I book an event that wants to pay me a flat fee, it usually ranges $3,000 to $5,000. This is in addition to the almost $100,000 I’ve earned during the past two years competing on the World Long Drive Tour, which comprises five to six events a year in the Open division and a couple in the Masters division, including the championship. (Competitors in the Masters division are 45 and older.)
My golf season is a grueling six or seven months. I train my butt off January to March because it tends to be a little slow. The high season is April through November. When I’m on the road, I do only half-hour workouts in hotels to stay fit. I’m almost 49, but I feel like I’ve got the body of a 32-year-old. I do about 80 charity events a year in which I hit drives of 350 to 400 yards for every group. We have a blast. I can’t explain how satisfying it is to do what I do for great causes. One of my favorite events of the year is in Denver. It’s for Kawasaki Disease (KD), a heart disease found in children. KD usually affects children under the age of 12, and I’ve become close to the Logan family. Cooper, who is 10, suffers from KD and was diagnosed at 5. It’s so rewarding and humbling to get to use my talent to raise thousands of dollars for Cooper and other kids with KD. It’s a lot of travel, but I try never to be away from Eileen and my three kids for more than five days.
In 2018, I won the Masters World Long Drive Championship with a drive of 373 yards into a slight wind. I also enjoy competing in the Open division, where I go up against the likes of Kyle Berkshire, 22, who won this year’s World Long Drive Championship with a bomb of 407 yards. The competition keeps me young, and the relationships I’ve made along the way have been awesome. This year I won a Masters event in Rochester but lost in the world-championship final in September. That’s OK. I’ve made some changes in the off-season and am looking forward to making another run at the championship belt in 2020.
But I also have another important goal. In 2020, I’ll be 50, and I’m already preparing for PGA Tour Champions qualifying. I played a mini-tour event for the first time in July. It was the first stroke-play event I’d played that mattered in 15 years. It was a one-day event, and I shot even-par 72 on a course that wasn’t in great shape. My playing partners were 10-year PGA Tour member Patrick Sheehan, whom I’ve known for 30 years, and a 23-year-old kid preparing for Korn Ferry Tour Q school. I wound up tying for second that day with Pat, which was a good score considering the conditions. I was 60 to 80 yards beyond both of them all day and didn’t hit a wedge outside of 10 feet. It was so cool to be back doing what I love to do—competing in golf.
As I look back, I guess I’m living the dream, just not the one I started with.
—with Bob Carney