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Fast Eddie Fernandes sets his sights on long-drive competition

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Updated: February 26, 2014 11:07PM

He hasn’t played more than a couple dozen rounds in the last 10 years, let alone competed in a professional golf event.

But on Thursday, Eddie Fernandes, 43, hopes to take the first step toward becoming a long-drive champion.

In one sense, he’ll enter preliminary qualifying as a mystery man in his first foray to the Re/Max Long Drive Championships in Mesquite, Nev.

On the other hand, Fernandes’ clubhead speed of nearly 144.8 mph and ball speed of 208 mph put him among the very top long-drive hopefuls, according to his coach, who checked Fernandes’ numbers against other competitors who use Trackman, a sophisticated swing analyzer.

“Eddie is the real deal,’’ said the coach, Mike Napoleon, director of golf instruction at Catalyst Golf Performance, a comprehensive new North Side learning center where Fernandes trains. “He truly has the speed to compete. And it’s only getting faster.’’

How Fast Eddie got here reads like one of those compelling Olympic-style backstories.

While watching the Re/Max Long Drive Championships on TV last October, Fernandes got the urge to compete.

“I was watching these guys on TV in October,’’ he said. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t care if they’re only 23, 24 years old. I can still compete and beat most of them, even being 42.’ ’’

He played his last serious golf in 2004, when he came up short at the PGA Tour’s Q school for the fifth time. His wife encouraged him to keep at it. But after a good run as a golfer at Central Connecticut State and on the Florida mini-tour circuit, Fast Eddie was ready to get on with life.

He had taken a stab at acting, playing Gloria Estefan’s romantic interest in a long-ago music video. He had won dozens of mini-tour events in Florida, including seven in a row in 2004.

But it was time to move on.

“My wife wanted me to continue playing,’’ he said, “but we wanted to have more children. It was time to figure out what I needed to do next.’’

Ten years later, they live in the Chicago area — his wife is from Palos Heights — with their three children, aged 5, 7 and 9. Fernandes, who works as a server and bartender at Viaggio as well as operating the security surveillance business he started in Florida, seemingly had moved on.

Then he tuned into the Long Drive Championship and started training. An internet search of Trackman led him to Catalyst, which trains golfers of all levels in fitness and diet as well as golf.

The Catalyst pros were impressed with Eddie’s 133.4 mph clubhead speed. By comparison, Bubba Watson, the fastest player on the PGA Tour, tops out at 128 mph.

Fernandes’ speed was especially impressive because he was able to consistently deliver drive after drive that went 380 yards and beyond. They even went straight, for the most part.

To win the Long Drive Championship, which will feature a $500,000 purse in September, more speed was needed. And Catalyst trainer Tommy Asuma saw that potential in the 6-4, 200-pound Fernandes, who’s longer and leaner than a lot of long-drive contenders.

“Eddie had a great track record of working out,’’ said Asuma, who accompanied Fernandes to Mesquite. “But we found he could use improvement in flexibility and mobility as well as strength. We also found some power leaks. As a result, we’ve been able to make some incredible gains in a short period of time.’’

Fernandes is now topping out at nearly 145 mph, an improvement of 11 mph since October. Which is, considering a starting point 5 mph than the fastest PGA player, pretty amazing.

How amazing? Fernandes will start finding out Thursday.

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