BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Lance Reader, the owner of Krank Golf, has occasionally crossed paths with Bryson DeChambeau, usually at Professional Long Drive competitions.
Reader is a former top-rated competitor whose longest drive measured 526 yards during an event in New Mexico in 2004. DeChambeau, of course, has spent many years chasing distance in hopes of maximizing his success rate while reducing the game’s confounding variables.
Reader watched intently as DeChambeau chafed when driver heads kept breaking, unable to withstand the brute force of his swing. Or when the face began to flatten, curtailing distance. Silently, Reader thought his Formula Fire club would be perfect for DeChambeau. Made specifically for the highest speeds on the launch monitor, the USGA-conforming driver is attractive for the long-drive crowd but also available for touring pros.
He also knew that DeChambeau was friends with Kyle Berkshire, who won the 2019 World Long Drive Championship using a Krank driver. Reader didn’t want to initiate contact with DeChambeau, but he figured the two buddies were sharing equipment notes. He hoped DeChambeau’s curiosity would eventually lead him to reach out.
Two weeks ago, it happened.
DeChambeau, frustrated with his poor results since joining LIV Golf in 2022, had recently reconnected with longtime coach Mike Schy, now more in the role of confidante and advisor. It was Schy who sent a message via the Krank website, wanting to obtain a driver for testing. Reader called back and agreed to expedite a club. There was one stipulation: Reader first wanted to speak directly with DeChambeau.
Schy arranged the call. Reader and DeChambeau discussed the product. They discussed DeChambeau’s needs. They discussed the benefits. It was a good conversation, but it wasn’t the most important one. DeChambeau needed to test the driver first. Then the real discussion could take place. So Reader sent him a club overnight.
DeChambeau called the next day. His excitement level was palpable.
“I’m almost scared to talk about what I just experienced,” he told Reader.
Then he asked the kind of question Reader wanted to hear.
“Why are your drivers 60% less curve on the ball flight than any other driver I’ve tested?” DeChambeau wondered. “And it’s not enough that I’m doing it. I need to know why.”
Thus, it began. The Mad Scientist asking questions, probing, challenging. Reader offering answers and explanations, intent on pitching his product with truth and sound methodology. He wasn’t sure of DeChambeau’s exact level of skepticism, but he’s accustomed to seeing raised eyebrows.
After all, his company is not a mainstream OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). Krank Golf only makes drivers and fairway woods, with a buying audience that’s perceived to be for long-distance pros – even though 90% of the sales are by slower-speed swingers, with clubs made specifically for their game. He’s never had a professional player at the elite touring level, let alone a major champion who’s among the biggest personalities in the game, play his clubs.
DeChambeau, of course, isn’t exactly conventional. He’s open to exploring any idea, any approach, any product that could help. His relationship as a Cobra ambassador obviously made it fruitless to explore other brands, but now as a free agent, the equipment world is his oyster.
Perhaps surprisingly, their discussions didn’t focus on actual distance considerations, such as spring effect and Characteristic Time (CT) or COR numbers. That’s not the problem area for DeChambeau. “Not important to Bryson,” Reader said. “He already has enough velocity.”
The main points of intrigue and focus were very simple: accuracy and durability.
While Professional Long Drive contests are celebrated for, well, long drives, there is an accuracy element in play, the ball required to land within a certain grid, usually 45-60 yards in width. Thus, Krank builds its drivers with that competition requirement in mind, creating a stable experience due to its deep-cupped face. Sole plate louvers provide significant body rigidity, while weight ports positioned on the bottom in the back reduce unneeded lateral angular spin, nearly half as much as his equipment competitors, Reader said.
“In a nutshell, our drivers are extremely straight-hitting because they have very little body and face deformation at impact,” Reader said.
As for durability? That’s essentially why Reader created his own equipment company. During his competition days, he was tired of using drivers that would constantly break on him, unable to withstand the constant pounding of the world’s longest hitters. “I was one of the top long drivers in the world,” he said, “and I was sick and tired of breaking drivers. So, I decided to make one.”
That was 22 years ago. Durability remains a core tenet at Krank. Everything is hand-made, not cast. No insert faces. No carbon body. The highest-grade hardened Beta Titanium is used, making it arguably the hardest driver on the planet. The goal is preventing the bulge and roll on the face from flattening like a pancake, and thus eliminating the constant need to break in new drivers because the old ones diminish so quickly. DeChambeau was intrigued about the possibility of getting comfortable and dialed in with a single driver, which would allow him to practice with more efficiency.
When offering proof of durability, Reader points to the club that Berkshire used to win the 2019 Worlds. The head had already hit 5,000 balls at 155 mph swing speed. “No one’s even close to our durability,” he said. “We’re a hundred, maybe a thousand times more durable because we had to handle the guys that were the fastest.”
DeChambeau obviously didn’t have first-hand experience on Krank’s durability aspect, but his initial impressions on accuracy sold him on the product. Krank Golf then worked to build one of its USGA-conforming Formula Fire pro driver to meet his specs. It was the LD with 6 degrees of loft that DeChambeau unwrapped two days before the start of last week’s LIV Golf Greenbrier.
“I actually was with him on the range when he took it out of the plastic wrapping on Wednesday morning because believe it or not, that's when he first hit it last week,” said his Crushers GC teammate Anirban Lahiri. “He had obviously done all his research. I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but he was convinced that it was going to be good for him, and he was right.”
DeChambeau and Lahiri played a 9-hole match against HyFlyers GC Captain Phil Mickelson and teammate Cameron Tringale that day, with DeChambeau’s team filming the match that was later condensed into a YouTube video. The HyFlyers won the match, but Mickelson knew that his opposing captain was thrilled about the new piece of equipment.
“He was explaining in our match why this driver performed better for him and his club head speed and why he was able to hit it straighter,” Mickelson said. “It’s not for me. It wouldn’t work for me based on the physics of it because I can’t swing it as fast as he can and create that kind of speed. But it works for him, and he believes in it. And many times in his career, he has found something he believes gives him an edge, whether it’s the way he reads the green, or his putting stroke or the way he drives it or his single-length clubs, whatever. He believes he’s creating an advantage for himself.”
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In Friday’s first round, DeChambeau opened with a 2-under 68, leaving him seven shots off the pace held by another big hitter, Matthew Wolff, who had tied the LIV-record low with a 61. But DeChambeau was thrilled with how the new Krank driver performed. He had averaged 334 yards in driving distance (second-best in the field that day) while hitting 10 of 14 fairways.
The numbers didn’t tell the entire story.
“If you're a long driver, it's one of the craziest adrenaline experiences of all to hit drivers just for hours and hours and hours,” Reader said. “But his driver was great that day, and just his chipping and putting wasn't right, So, you know, at least he didn't have to run and change out his head and hit for two hours on the range to hit a driver. He already knew the driver was there. He just had to go work on getting closer to the pin and making his putts. So he just spent an hour on that and then went to dinner. Usually, he's on the range breaking in three more heads. But he was excited because he knew that his driver was in a place that he hadn't had in many, many, many years, Maybe never.”
With more time to think and enjoy the evening, DeChambeau was feeling something special was about to happen. It did the next day.
He followed Wolff’s 61 with one of his own, a bogey-free effort that left him one shot off the lead through 36 holes. His driver performance was nearly identical to the previous day, but his iron play was better, and he holed all the makeable birdies. It was the best round he had played since joining LIV Golf. Meanwhile, word got out about the new driver.
DeChambeau was initially reluctant to talk about it, but ultimately couldn’t help himself. “It's probably performed the best I've ever had in the past five years in professional golf for me, ever since 2018 when I was striping it early in the year,” he told the media. “I don't want to say too much. It's fantastic for anyone that's over 175 ball speed.”
Reader didn’t talk to Bryson that Saturday night, as time was at a premium with the shotgun start on Sunday moved up to the morning to avoid potential weather issues. Reader, based in Arizona, got up early to watch.
It was worth it, of course.
DeChambeau hit his first eight fairways, converting that accuracy with birdies at every hole. His only bogey came on the par-3 seventh, so no driver error there. Although he missed the fairway left at the 12th hole, he told Reader later that it was a deliberate miss, as he didn’t want to flirt with the trouble on the right. Essentially, wherever he was aiming, he found his target.
With flawless driving, receptive greens and impeccable putting, he spent the final 10 holes chasing 59. Little did he know it would end up being a 12-under 58, thanks to his 40-foot putt on the final hole for his 13th birdie of the day.
For DeChambeau, it was a near-perfect execution of a game plan. For the guy who made his new driver, it was the realization of a dream that began in the burgeoning days of his new company, as well as the answer to a question he often pondered.
How would an elite professional golfer perform with one of his drivers?
“It was such a brilliant moment in time,” Reader said. “You know, we've had a lot of brilliant moments in the world of long drive and the things that we've experienced personally, just incredible. But to be able to transition into the golf world more efficiently has really been my dream for a long time.
“I built the bomb. He lit the fuse.”
DeChambeau, of course, was the perfect guinea pig. His willingness to think outside the box. His friendship with long driver competitors and openness to embracing (and competing in) their sport. His constant exploration of all aspects of the golf swing, including the latest equipment technology.
And the key legal fact – he was no longer limited to the offerings of a contracted equipment sponsor.
“For five years, I didn’t have the right equipment,” DeChambeau said. “So that shows you how important equipment is. I think we're in a place now in time where [equipment] contracts aren't necessarily as important as the purse you're playing for. I really think the best equipment is going to start showing itself over the course of time because of that.”
During his struggle the past 18 months to produce positive results, the presumed storyline often centered on DeChambeau trying to regain his form of 2018, the breakout season in which he won four times and became a top-5 player in the world.
But from a swing standpoint, the intent was to go further back in time. Perhaps even as far back as 2015, when he became just the fifth player to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles. The distance chase that eventually led to a startling transformation of his body had yet to dominate his thinking, His swing was purer, a heavier touch on accuracy.
He discussed those halcyon days with Reader. At less than 175 mph ball speed, DeChambeau may have been golf’s best driver. But as Reader pointed out, when the speeds picked up, the equipment failed to keep up. “You exceeded the spec of the drivers you’re hitting by pushing it into the 190s,” Reader told DeChambeau.
But nobody wants to hear pros blaming their equipment. So, the criticism fell on DeChambeau’s swing, the one that fundamentally has remained the same all these years. Yes, it served him well, helped him win the 2020 U.S. Open. But in retrospect, he won despite his equipment, not because of it.
Maybe that all changed during a spectacular, legendary, unforgettable performance last weekend at The Old White course. Only time will tell, of course, but the prospects of future success seem much brighter now for DeChambeau. His new driver head is stronger – and so is his own head.
“Feel like my mental game is in a different place because of the equipment,” DeChambeau said this week in the lead-up to LIV Golf Bedminster. “I feel like I'm just a brute. I just, boom, right down the fairway, wedge it on the green, right down the fairway, wedge it on the green. It's just more of a determined, focused mentality that I have with this new equipment. It's really the equipment, to be honest. So it is different.
“That's what makes me feel like I'm back in 2015 when I was playing the U.S. Amateur and shooting 6-under every time at Olympia Fields. That's kind of what I feel like right now.”
As for Krank Golf, the affiliation with DeChambeau obviously is a positive, even if it’s nothing more than as an equipment supplier. Reader said interest in his drivers and fairway woods have been “crazy” in the days following Bryson’s victory. He realizes DeChambeau is a needle mover in this sector, having done more in one day to raise mainstream brand awareness than any previous marketing effort.
His goal now is to capitalize on the awareness, get the word out that his products are not just for the game’s longest hitters, but for players with slower swing speeds, with a range of offerings that cater to all levels. “The narrative is that we only make clubs for the long drivers,” he said. “The truth is the exact opposite.” Still, he can’t help but pinch himself, amazed at his new reality, the one that began just two weeks ago with an unexpected text message.
“This has been so insane. He’s such a special hitter,” Reader said. “It’s amazing to see how our driver performs when you’ve got a guy who’s that proficient. It’s like the Iron Byron” – the machine used for USGA equipment testing that replicated Byron Nelson’s effortless but efficient swing – “but with a human doing it.”
The Iron Bryson? It has a nice ring to it. After all these years, maybe DeChambeau has finally found a driver – from an non-traditional source with an unusual name – that fits his needs. It took just three tournament days to shoot 58. No telling what’ll he do after a full month.