NEW ORLEANS — The idea was to learn a little bit more about New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz by tagging along during one of his daily rounds of golf. To explore why he is so drawn to activities that require impossible standards like perfection and a repeatable swing.
Not only did Lutz oblige, he went the extra yard to show off how he deals with pressure and adversity.
A seven handicap, Lutz got off to the best start of his life at 2 under par through eight holes before he bogeyed 9 and double-bogeyed 11. Instead of folding, he rallied back with three straight birdies and broke par for the first time.
“It never fails. You always play your best right before you have to hang ’em up for training camp,” said Lutz, who was joined as usual by Saints long snapper and close friend Zach Wood.
Lutz explained he wasn’t feeling much pressure since he went into the round hoping to shoot 76 or 78.
“I was playing with a little bit of house money being 2-under in the first place. So even with the double, I was still good,” Lutz said. “Then I just started birdieing.”
OK, so Lutz’s approach to golf and football aren’t exactly the same.
He’s a lot more intense in his day job, where he stresses over every missed kick like it could be his last despite making the Pro Bowl in 2019 and ranking fifth in NFL history with a career field goal percentage of 86.6.
Golf is a little more therapeutic — one of many lessons Lutz has gleaned from legendary Saints kicker Morten Andersen.
“Golf, kicking and beer. Keeps you happy in the offseason,” Lutz said Andersen told him. “Every day, as long as the sun is shining, this is what we do.”
Lutz started playing golf after graduating from Georgia State University in 2016. Now he is consumed.
“As I’ve played, I’ve loved the mental side of it. I just like the idea of standing over a putt, knowing I have to make it,” Lutz said. “Or feeling a good drive and then having to repeat it. That’s just like kicking. You get a hold of a kick and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta find a way to repeat that.”
Lutz, 27, faced some rare adversity last season when he missed four of five field goals during a stretch in November and December.
Not every miss was Lutz’s fault. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi pointed out that Lutz slipped on one and there was a problem with the snap-hold-kick operation on at least one other. And Lutz said he struggled to find his rhythm since the Saints went through a rare stretch where they attempted five field goals in five games.
But both acknowledged Lutz is critical of himself when things aren’t perfect.
“I’ve always had a little bit of a pessimistic attitude toward failure,” Lutz said. “So from my rookie year to this year coming up, I feel like if I miss a kick I’m gonna get cut. I’ll be on the sideline and say, ‘Zach, that could be the last kick. I don’t know if that’s a healthy mentality, but it’s just kind of how I keep my edge. Like, ‘I don’t have a choice but to make this kick.’”
Rizzi said that type of self-imposed pressure can be good or bad for different kickers. In Lutz’s case, he thinks it’s part of “what makes him so good.”
It was hard to blame Lutz for feeling that way when he first arrived in 2016 after being released by the Baltimore Ravens. He became the Saints’ 11th kicker in 11 years under coach Sean Payton. And his job security remained tenuous for 11 weeks while he missed six field goals and an extra point — three of which were blocked — before finishing the season perfect.
“He had a lot of adversity in college, so he was used to operating under duress,” said longtime former Saints punter and holder Thomas Morstead, who thinks Lutz benefited from joining a smoother operation on a NFL team. “He got battle tested early, and that paid dividends.
“And just the fact that Wil just wakes up and kicks the ball straight — that also helps with confidence. He’s just that good.”
Another technique Lutz leans on is the “clear the mechanism” scene from the movie “For Love of the Game,” where Kevin Costner players a pitcher who tunes out the crowd.
“We watched that my senior year in college before a game, and everything just clicked,” Lutz said. “I was having trouble figuring how to zone everything out because I was always a hyper person. I rewatched that scene probably a hundred times and just carried it with me.”
The Saints released Morstead this offseason, and second-year punter/holder Blake Gillikin is expected to take over. Morstead, Lutz and Wood expressed confidence the transition will be smooth, with Lutz and Wood now taking their turn as the wise veterans.
As a bonus, Gillikin also enjoys golf and regularly joins Lutz and Wood.
Wood, who also picked up golf at an older age, isn’t quite at the same level as Lutz. But they made a good team during Lutz’s record round, while also winning their competition against two regular golfing buddies. Wood was in charge of the range finder, while Lutz had an uncanny ability to locate wayward balls in the rough.
Lutz’s wife and Wood’s girlfriend are also close, and they often vacation together. Both said that bond is valuable when it comes to their working relationship.
Most people don’t appreciate how every NFL kick is a three-man operation that requires perfection from the snapper, the holder and the kicker — and a high level of tolerance for one another.
“He knows that I hate the laces on the outside,” Lutz said. “So you’re talking one-eighth of a turn is what goes from me being pissed at him or not.”
How often do they get upset at one another?
“Pretty often,” Wood said with a laugh, adding that Friday practices can be especially tense. “We obviously all have a really high standard. We want to be perfect. And if it’s not, we get upset at each other.
“But we’ve learned over the years what to say and what not to say at certain times. I think that’s why we work so well together.”