One of the longest hitters in professional golf is teeing it up in Palm Springs this week.
No, not Bryson DeChambeau. Not Wilco Nienaber, either. Rather, Nienaber’s fellow South African, James Hart du Preez, who at nearly 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds is a slightly leaner Jon Thompson – with Kyle Berkshire’s swing speed.
Hart du Preez, the 26-year-old Pretoria native who will make his PGA Tour debut at The American Express on a sponsor invitation, can swing the driver more than 140 mph and last season led the Sunshine Tour in driving distance at an average clip of 373.07 yards. While that number is certainly altitude aided, it was still almost 15 yards longer than Nienaber, who led the DP World Tour in that category last season at 323.31.
“If you look at the top 10 in the world, all of them have a massive power element to their game,” du Preez said last year in an interview. “Being able to hit the ball as far as I do … if I can keep myself healthy enough, I’d like to think that I can achieve my goal of competing week in and week out on the PGA Tour.”
Du Preez, though, isn’t remotely close to the top 10 in the world – or the top 1,000 for that matter. Despite his size and length (and his athleticism; he played cricket and water polo in high school), du Preez is ranked No. 1,319 in the world. Since turning pro in 2018, he has posted only four worldwide top-10s, all on the Sunshine Tour, as he has battled injuries, mainly chronic pain and inflammation caused by an arthritic disease.
He recently advanced to the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School last fall, but failed to qualify for final stage and earn conditional status on the feeder tour. Du Preez called the second half of last year “a blur.”
“There were some good moments on the course and some disappointments, mainly not making it to the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour school,” he wrote on his Instagram. “But I feel more grown up, learned a ton about myself and hopeful for what lies ahead. 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. Plenty time to make this the best year of my life to date.”
He can start the turnaround this week in Palm Springs, where all eyes will likely be on the big big-hitter.