LA QUINTA, Calif. — There’s a loud buzz around James Hart du Preez, the 26-year-old golfer from South Africa who is making his PGA Tour debut this week at The American Express.
More accurately, there is a thwack followed by oohs and aahs. That’s because du Preez is one of the longest drivers, not just in pro golf but on the planet.
Du Preez, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound wall of muscle, can hit a tee shot 400 yards. In fact, not only can he hit it that far, he dropped jaws by averaging 373.1 yards per drive last year on The Sunshine Tour, a South African pro tour.
To put that in perspective, Bryson DeChambeau led the PGA Tour in 2021 at 323.7 yards per drive.
His combination of clubhead speed and raw power — his fastest clubhead speed is 144 miles per hour and his fastest ball speed is 212 miles per hour — has become the stuff of legend. His exploits are popular on YouTube as videos of him hitting tee shots have hundreds of thousands of views.
But he doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed as just a long-drive specialist.
“When people see me, obviously they don’t see 6-9 golfers come around very often so the first thing they gravitate towards is the long-hitting,” du Preez said. “But funny enough putting is the best part of my game and has been since I was a little kid. I didn’t grow until late in my life until about 16 or 17 so before then I never hit the ball far so I had to learn how to score chipping and putting.”
His career got off to a slower-than-he-wanted start due to a wrist injury and multiple surgeries that followed. He turned pro in 2018, tore a ligament in his left wrist in his third start, and was out of commission for 18 months.
Du Preez is currently ranked No. 1,319 in the Official World Golf Ranking and was given a sponsor’s exemption into this event. He attributes the fact that he’s 26 and just now finding a groove to that late growth spurt he mentioned.
“A lot of people want to be tall, but they don’t understand the things that come with it, because your body accelerates so quickly and the forces you can generate are hard to control,” du Preez said. “My health is really good now. Since I turned about 24 years old, things have come into place, but from 15 to 24 it was pretty brutal. I could never play for more than about five months a year during that time with so many injuries. I was on and off the whole time. I’ve sort of settled into my body now and feeling great.”
James Hart du Preez tees off on the 1st hole (his 18th of the day) during the American Express pro-am tournament at PGA West in La Quinta, Wednesday, January 19, 2022.
For some historical perspective, du Preez will join Englishman Jon Thomson, who had a hole-in-one at the British Open last year, as the tallest player to ever play in a PGA Tour event. The tallest player to ever win a PGA Tour event is Phil Blackmar at 6-foot-7. The tallest player to ever win a major was George Archer, who won the 1969 Masters at 6-foot-5-and-a-half.
Making his PGA Tour debut is a big moment for du Preez. As a competitor, of course his goal is to win, but he understands there are a lot of ways this week will be a positive for him, even if it doesn’t end with him hoisting the trophy.
“For me, the goal is I hope to prove, more to myself than to anyone else, that I can play with these guys,” du Preez said. “It can be a little bit dangerous to only consider titles and winning as a measure of success. You can tick a lot of boxes along the way, and I’m just looking to tick some of those boxes this week.
“Being on the PGA is the goal,” he said. “I think my game is very well-suited to this tour. I hit the ball a long way and I hit it very high, but that’s been my ultimate goal since I was a kid to play against the best players week in and week out.”
So golf fans should get to know the name James Hart du Preez. And to help, let’s have him explain the different parts of his unusual name.
“My first name is James Hart,” he said. “Hart is actually my grandmother on my dad’s side surname. So my dad is James Hart as well and my last name is du Preez (the Z is silent) so I don’t have a middle name and it gets people because it’s not hyphenated.”
He said he understands that the reason people like to watch him play is to see him hit the ball as far as he can. But he says he always tells young golfers that he’d much rather teach them how to hit the ball straight than to hit it far.
That being said. He doesn’t mind being able to hit it far, too.
According to the PGA Tour, these are the stock yardages du Preez hits for each club:
Full wedge: 160
50-degree wedge: 145
54-degree wedge: 127
58-degree wedge: 105
Being a tall golfer helps with those gaudy numbers. He said he can generate a lot more force, but uber-tall golfers don’t have a ton of success on the PGA Tour.
When asked what are the pros and cons of being a tall golfer, du Preez didn’t hesitate.
“The main con is trying to find pants that fit,” he said with a laugh. “Airplanes are tough, hotel beds are always too short, those are the main downsides.”
His personality is almost as large as his frame.
Ron Johnson, who played with du Preez as part of the pro-am event on Wednesday before the tournament tees off Thursday, said watching du Preez in action was a treat.
“He’s just huge off the tee, but even better he’s the nicest guy out here,” Johnson said. “There’s not a nicer guy. He was helping us read the greens and telling us what to do. And his tee shots, I mean they’re just bombs, I don’t know what else to say except they are twice as long as mine.”
Shad Powers is a sports columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com.