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Fannin On Way To Nationals

Happy Gilmore has some competition.

Saturday, October 14, 2000

Happy Gilmore has some competition.

The fictional character portrayed by Adam Sandler in the movie of the same name has a real-life long drive personality in Ironton’s Rick Fannin.

Last weekend in St. Louis, Fannin fought chilly weather and 30-mile an hour winds in the face of the competitors to win the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship qualifier.

No golfer was able to exceed 290 yards due to the strong winds except for two golfers. The leader sat at 302 yards until Fannin came up for his final swing.

And in Happy Gilmore tradition, Fannin struck a 305-yard drive to win the qualifier and earn a berth in the national finals Oct. 20-21 in Mesquite, Nev., which is located just outside Las Vegas.

"Those were the toughest conditions I’ve ever tried to qualify in. You were hitting into about a 30 miles an hour wind and it was 41 degrees. It was real tough," Fannin said.

Fannin, who is in the open division, and other r long drive golfers hit in the 340-to-370 range on the average. Golfers may hit longer shots, but anything outside the 40-yard wide fairway limitations is not scored.

Fannin has a longest drive of 422 yards that he hit in the first round of a qualifier last year in Pittsburgh. He stroke a 395-yard shot at Man O’ War in Lexington, Ky., last year, and he had a 371 late that season in Cleveland.

A total of 62 district qualifiers are held each year. The qualifier in St. Louis was the final chance for golfers to qualify.

The tournament uses more than 300 golf facilities across the world with more than 10,000 competitors taking their best shot.

The final 64 qualifiers reach the final. The predominant contestants are from Spain, Germany, England, South Africa, Canada, and the United States.

"I was kind of shocked," Fannin said of this win. "This is only my second year on the tour. I was relieved. My mom and dad were there, so it was just a great moment. I can’t really describe it. I’ve come down that road so many times disappointed, and to accomplish what I set out to achieve is something else."

The long drive nationals has a $275,000 total purse with $75,000 going to the winner. The champions also receives $1,200 per month for a year for expenses plus endorsements.

Fannin, who is sponsored by Harrison Shafts, said the idea of winning the national championship hasn’t registered.

"I really haven’t thought about it a lot. I just want to go out and do what I’m capable of and focus on what I’ve worked at. I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well. But these guys are the best of the best. It’ll be tough, but it can be done," Fannin said.

Although the finals will be held next weekend, fans won’t be able to watch the competition until Christmas Day when it is televised by Fox.

The finals start with a qualifier and then a shootout that leaves 20 in the final round. The contest usually takes the entire day.

Fannin was an outstanding high school golfer at Ironton. He was a two-time first team All-Ohio selection and state medalist runner-up his senior year as he helped lead Ironton to a state runner-up finish.

He is currently an assistant coach for the Ironton Fighting Tigers golf team.