By Victor Munoz
When people start talking about golf, the name Tiger Woods always seems to enter the conversation, particularly now, considering his incredible win at the Master’s last month.
Andrew Fernandes, a junior on the CSUDH golf team, has no problem talking Tiger. He’s idolized him since Fernandes was a boy, and there are also some interesting parallels in their lives.
First, that comeback. Just as Tiger announced to the world that he was back, for at least one major, on April 14 at Augusta National, Fernandes made his own announcement just 10 days later, finishing sixth in the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament.
Sixth isn’t first, but it was the highest finish in recent memory for a Toro in the tournament, and Fernandes’ first top-10 finish since he was a freshman. Injuries and personal issues had sidelined Fernandes, as they had sidelined Woods, although Fernandes only missed half of his freshman year and all of his sophomore season, while Woods hadn’t been in serious contention in the final round of a major (the gold standard for professional golf) for 10 years.
Another connection was the start of their collegiate careers. Woods won three tournaments as a freshman at Stanford, including his first. In Fernandes’ first four college tournaments, he won once and finished in the top-10 three times. Though he played only 12 rounds before back injuries (another Wood’s parallel) sidelined him for nearly two years, his scoring average of 71.3 that season is the lowest in team history.
Both also started their golf careers very young. A 3-year-old Woods displayed his already solid putting skills on a nationally syndicated afternoon TV talk show, while Fernandes started playing at age 4, got his first coach at age 5, and won his first tournament at age 6.
“That was the first time I played in a tournament and I ended up winning it and then from there it really grew on me,” said Fernandes, who met his idol when he was 8 at the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim.
Fernandes, who was born in Lakewood, lives in Cerritos and attended Long Beach Wilson High school, was recruited by several teams after his senior year, when he helped lead the Bruins to the CIF state finals for the first time in history. But he chose CSUDH and, based on his four tournaments, it seemed the perfect fit. But, just like Woods, back injuries and personal issues forced him to step away from the game and, again like Woods, he sometimes doubted he would ever play again.
“[Stepping away from the sport] was mentally very tough,” said Fernandes. “There were points when I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue and move forward. It was challenging for me to understand because I had never been away from the game for so long.”
But though he admits to thinking about quitting the sport, the time off actually made him realize the golf course is where he most wanted to be.
“[In the time off] I was able to learn and reflect and really learn that the golf course is my place and that nobody would be able to take it away from me,” said Fernandes. “And that’s kind of where I rediscovered my passion, my love and I don’t think anyone will take that away from me, I don’t think I will ever quit.”
He rejoined the Toros this season, once again competing alongside with three of the players who were with him in the 2016-17 freshman class: Andrew Banuelos (who holds the second-lowest scoring average in CSUDH history; Raynard Belmonte, who holds the third lowest, and William Yang, who holds the fourth lowest.
“When I was finally able to play I didn’t want to do it just for me but for the people that backed me up,” he said. “I was not only playing for myself but for the incredible group that we have here. The staff, all my personal coaches and friends that helped me.”
“Coming back, I was very rusty.”
Fernandes said his goal this year was mainly to get his confidence back.. But the welcome he received in his first tournament this season gave him a boost.
“I will never forget the first tournament back, it was really nice how the other coaches, the players said hello and welcome back,” said Fernandes. “I think that was a really great feeling to have respect from other coaches that recognize you and stuff like that. And the fact they said, ‘hey we missed you out here in the golf course’ I thought that was very welcoming for me.”
Fernandes didn’t shoot under par for a round this season until his sixth tournament in early April But in the CCAA championships, he rebounded from an opening 76 and shot 72-70 helping him climb into sixth place at 2-over for the tournament.
Yet another parallel between the Toro and the Tiger is the role their fathers played in their golf game. Both were supportive but also pushed their sons to excel. And just like Earl Woods saw his son win his first Master’s and was the first person Tiger embraced, Fernandes’ dad was on hand to watch him win his first American Junior Golf Association as a high school senior in his last opportunity before turning 19: the 2016 Callaway Junior Golf Championship.
“I ran towards him and hugged him after tapping the final putt,” said Fernandes. “It was like all this time, 14 years of traveling and playing golf, and this big event that we wanted to win we finally did. I think that one was really important to me.”
Now Fernandes seeks to further emulate his boyhood idol by playing golf professionally.
“I plan on graduating from Dominguez Hills and after graduation hopefully live out my dream of playing professional golf,” said Fernandes. “That would be huge for me and my family, along with representing CSUDH.”