Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
What does an outstanding golfer have left when an accident has robbed him of the consummate skills he once possessed? The answer most assuredly would be one word, “Memories.”
In the case of Rick Fernandes, he can look back on a stellar amateur career along with laudable professional experiences that were cut short by a terrible explosion that ultimately ended his ability to play the game he loved.
Rick Fernandes moved from suburban Detroit, Mich., in 1975 after helping Thurston High School to a third-place finish in the Michigan State High School Golf Finals. He assumed the number one man’s position during his senior year at North Vigo High School. He was runner-up in the Vigo County tournament that year which was won by his good friend, John Moulton.
After entering ISU Rick can look back proudly to his first college tournament, the Ball State Invitational. Rick won individual honors in that competition which included teams from Purdue and Indiana University.
This was the prelude to a successful college career that ended in much the same way it began, with Rick winning golf tournaments. Playing as the number one man for the Sycamores, Fernandes recalls winning individual honors in his last two tournaments. He took first place in the Franklin Invitational, and followed that with a win in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship when the tourney was played in Des Moines, Iowa. On three occasions Fernandes was honored by being named ISU’s most outstanding golfer for 1977, ’78 and ’79. It was in 1979 that Fernandes was designated an “All American” by the Golf Coaches Association of America. Rick’s plaque bears the names of others selected All American in 1979, and they include: Payne Stewart, Cory Pavin, Fred Couples, and John Cook among others.
At a later date, Rick was inducted into ISU’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
After college Rick continued sharpening his game in amateur tournaments. He won a pair of Terre Haute City Championships. In 1979, Rick finished one shot ahead of Bobby Dickerson. In 1980, Rick finished two shots ahead of co-runners up, Ted Kaperak and Bob Arnett. Also during amateur competition he won a pair of Elks Amateur titles, as well as multiple club championships at Elks Fort Harrison C.C. and Hulman Links.
After turning professional, there were some good times awaiting him, but also some devastating times. Rick can remember cashing checks 30 times out of 50 mini-tour events he played in Florida. He teamed with Todd Smith to win the Indiana PGA Better Ball Championship. Winning the PGA Assistant Professional’s Title at Battleground C.C. in Lafayette when he toured the rugged course in rounds of 65, 71 and 70 was a high point in Rick’s resume. He can also look back at making ten “cuts” in the Indiana Open.
Golf, however, would become much more difficult for Rick Fernandes when a monstrous explosion in his rented house simply annihilated the structure. Rick regained consciousness in the basement, but the remainder of the dwelling was gone. Some of his belongings were found high in the tops of large trees adjacent to the dwelling. Rick’s first words were “Has anyone found my golf clubs?” The explosion, due to a propane gas leak, occurred in 1990 when Rick was 32.
Any gambler would have laid 100-to-one odds that no one could have lived through the blast that blew out windowpanes more than a half-mile away.
Rick’s primary injuries were to his foot. He kept playing golf and worked as an assistant to Jim Peo and later as the head professional at Elks Fort Harrison C.C.
Persistent problems with his foot and subsequent infections led to surgeries to replace both hips, and later amputation of the left leg below the knee. Due to infection, the right hip was removed along with a portion of the pelvis. Rick gets around now with the assistance of two crutches.
It has been 12 years since Rick has hit a golf ball, but he can look back on some prolific golf and the memories that accompany his accomplishments on greens and fairways he once walked.
How good a golfer was Rick Fernandes? You can be the judge. He played eight different courses in 64 strokes on each during his playing years. He scored four holes-in-one. He had finishes of third, seventh and ninth in Indiana Amateur competition and he has been fourth low amateur in the Indiana Open. As a professional Rick, finished eighth, ninth and 12th in Indiana Opens.
Rick Fernandes can look back on a plethora of outstanding golf during good times and bad.
Rick would like to thank the following people who have assisted him over the years: Ray Goddard, John Moulton, Gary and Becky McCabe, Mike and Janee Gambill, Steve Anderson, Jack Myers, Dr. John Trench, Dr. Irving Haber, Dr. Ton, Jim Peo, Dave Alumbaugh and the Vickers family.
I I I
Our apologies to David Feherty for having him play in the Ryder Cup back in 1960. The date should have been 1991. Sorry, David.
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Tip of the week — Use a light grip on your putter. If not, tension will flow up through your wrists and forearms, and that will spell trouble.
Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.