A 6-foot-9 missile launcher is making his PGA Tour debut this week. Who is this guy?
YOUTUBE / James Wiltshire
He sounds more myth than man: 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, ball speeds north of 210 mph. His average driving distance: 373.1 yards. That’s according to his 2020-21 stats on the Sunshine Tour, in South Africa, which made him 15 yards longer than his closest pursuer: much-buzzed-about bomber Wilco Nienaber.
Even his name has a fictional air to it: James Hart du Preez. Could be a suitor from a Jane Austen novel.
YouTube does little to temper the intrigue. Search for du Preez and you’ll find videos with exclamation-point-laden titles like “WANT TO HIT LONGER GOLF DRIVES??? WATCH THIS VIDEO!!!,” “Playing With the Longest Golf Pro in the World” and “This European Tour Pro is LONGER THAN BRYSON!!!” That last video has garnered more than 200,000 views.
Who is this guy? American golf fans are about to find out.
On Thursday, du Preez will make his PGA Tour debut, at the American Express event, in Palm Springs, Calif., as first noted by Brentley Romine at the Golf Channel. Not many players in the field will know the 26-year-old South African — count his countryman Dylan Frittelli among the exceptions — but that will change. It’s hard to stay anonymous when you’re blistering balls to the back of the range with a frame that resembles LeBron James’.
Du Preez came to golf early, first picking up a club in his native Pretoria when he was 3. But he showed more promise in another sport, earning a high school cricket scholarship. By his mid-teens he already had hit his peak height but weighed less than 190 pounds. “Some people called me a Chinese fighting snake,” he joked in an interview last year.
The muscle came later, after he’d fully turned his attention to golf and started working with trainer and performance specialist Gavin Groves. Du Preez said he was always long off the tee but bulking up helped provide an “element of control to that power.” He said it also helped him better manage injuries that plagued him in the early stages of his career.
He turned pro in 2018 but in just his third start tore a ligament in his left wrist. One surgery led to two more, sidelining him for 18 months. In three full seasons on the Sunshine Tour, he has yet to crack the top 30 on the Order of Merit; he also has made 16 appearances on the DP World Tour, making just five cuts. Du Preez is in a phase now, he said, where he finds positives simply in making it to the weekend. Every start is a learning experience.
But with a string of tough-luck injuries now behind him, du Preez also believes he’s ready to make big strides with his game, with an end goal of earning his PGA Tour card. “The tools that I possess will set me up for success,” he said.
Last fall, du Preez advanced to the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School but missed out on qualifying for the final stage, which he called a “disappointment” in an Instagram post. He added: “I am currently pretty much broke, 26 years old, relying heavily on my parents for financial help and feeling under massive pressure. However, I will always rather be the man in the arena chasing my dream. … When you hear those stories of ‘years ago I was struggling so much I did x-y or z and look where I am now,’ I am in the middle of that struggle. But it’s all part of the journey. Work, neutral attitude and a ton of faith are all you can control. My profession is cutthroat as hell, but there’s nothing I’d much rather do.”
That much is clear when you watch him play. In one of those aforementioned YouTube videos, Du Preez plays a round at Serengeti, a course near Pretoria, with British pro and YouTuber James Wiltshire. On the back nine, the players arrive on a par-4 with a lake that extends from the end of the tee box to a bunker in front of the green. Seemingly the only sane play is to the fairway out to the right.
“Big moment here,” Wiltshire says from off camera. “What’s the carry?”
Du Preez, who already is pulling driver from his bag, says, “To the bunker it’s 370 meters, which is right around 400 yards.”
Wiltshire, who is chuckling, zooms his camera in on the green.
“No one else on planet Earth is looking at this and going, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that line there.”
Du Preez looks undaunted. He steps in, wheels back and launches a missile over the water. The shot tails right of its target but still flies the water with ease.
“Pin high,” du Preez deadpans.