Bryson DeChambeau is seemingly pushing the limits of power in the game of golf. The U.S. Open champion leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 321 yards off the tee. He hit a 414-yard drive in the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January.
DeChambeau is the Tour’s gold standard off the tee. Known as golf’s “mad scientist,” DeChambeau has spent the last couple years looking for any power advantage he could gain via equipment, swing speed and body type, and it’s possible he may be close to maxing out his power.
“I think as time goes on, there’s not much more to gain from technology side of golf club manufacturing, building,” DeChambeau said at the Masters. “There are little things we can do, but where the massive gains will be is in athletes.”
“Once you get somebody out here that’s a 7-foot-tall human being and they are able to swing a golf club at 145 miles an hour effortlessly, that’s when things get a little interesting,” DeChambeau said. “That’s when I’m going to become obsolete, potentially.”
Enter Karl-Anthony Towns. The Timberwolves center is a known fan of golf who enjoys playing recreationally. He’s hinted at his power off the tee in casual conversations in the past. So the question is, how far can Towns strike it off the tee?
“I’ve gassed it to above 400, for sure,” Towns said.
Four-hundred? From a casual golfer?
“I’ve been with people and they’ve seen me, multiple times, drive greens that are 400-plus,” Towns said. “My 4-iron is going 320 max, 300 average. So I think the driver can do that.”
The response of many upon hearing that was “yeah, right.” Hey, we’ve all embellished from time to time, from the size of the fish we caught to the distance we hit the ball off the tee.
But there is truth to what Towns says. As he noted, he has witnesses.
Towns was golfing at the now-closed Hillcrest Golf Club in St. Paul one time alongside the likes of Timberwolves television analyst Jim Petersen and Jeff Munneke, the organization’s vice president of fan experience.
The 18th hole at Hillcrest was a Par 4 that pushed 400 yards.
“A long, skinny hole with trees on both sides. I think it literally was right about 400 — 386 or 390,” Munneke said.
Munneke noted there was a bit of tail wind on this day, and the fairway slopes downhill to the green. And while Towns said he can control his long drives when his swing is smoothed out, it certainly isn’t an every swing instance. But it did happen on No. 18.
“He finally hit one square, and it whistled down the right side of the fairway,” Petersen said. “It was a beautiful little draw down the right side of the fairway, and I was like … ‘He hit the (crap) out of that one.’”
“He definitely got a hold of it. It was a rocket,” Munneke said. “It was very Happy Gilmore-like.”
You can’t see the green from the tee box, so no one was exactly sure where the shot went. They searched in the rough and around the front of the green, to no avail.
“We’re like, ‘Where the heck is the ball,’” Munneke said.
Finally, as Petersen was lining up a putt from the back of the green awhile later, he saw a ball in the rough behind the green.
“It was Karl’s ball,” Petersen said. “He hit it over the green.”
Petersen has also seen Towns smoke his 4-iron probably close to 300 yards. He himself hits his driver a steady 270 yards, and Towns has hit his 4-iron past him. So the length exists.
“He’s got a lot of torque in that shot. He takes it back, but it’s not an out-of-control swing,” Munneke said. “He just swings hard. He puts some juice behind it, and when he connects, it’s going to go.”
That’s not to say Towns is some next-level player who could go golf on Tour if he wanted to put the time into it. As much as his general length helps in terms of power, it can also be a hindrance, as longer clubs are more difficult to control.
“Look, there’s still a chipping aspect and there’s still a putting aspect to it, but from a driving aspect, that’s where the gains will be had, is with these athletes coming out in the future,” DeChambeau told the media. “And it won’t stop. There’s just no way it will stop. … I think it’s good for the game, too. I don’t think it’s a bad thing you’re bringing in and making it more inclusive to everybody when you’re doing that. The athletes are the ones that are going to in the end move the needle in any sport you play, and I think that’s pretty amazing.”
So maybe golfers of the future will indeed look like Towns.
The center loves the sport. Munneke said his son, Ty, helped the center get fitted with PXG clubs. Towns loves to get out on the links, but usually avoids golfing competitively, even in pro-ams.
“I just always see golf as something fun. This is the way I look at it. We play in front of crowds all the time. Always having a gallery, in essence, always playing in front of people and always competing and putting the pressure on me,” Towns said. “I look at golf as an escape from the world. Something that I could leave all the fans, the hoopla, all that, and just go out there and enjoy being one with nature. That’s why I stay away from a lot of pro-ams, because after having this mentally draining season, it’s not something where I want to go out there and compete and do something with it. I want to go out there and have a good time with friends, try to shoot great scores and have a drink or two with them and call it a day.”