In archery, Oregon’s James Lutz is on top of the world

Lutz competed in the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championships
james lutz
James Lutz (Photo by John Ficenec)

It all came down to one arrow, and the pressure should have rendered James Lutz a bundle of nerves. Consider the situation.

This was last June, and Lutz was competing in a quarterfinal match in the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championships, the biggest event in compound bow archery.

The tournament was held in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. Lutz’s quarterfinal opponent, Mike Schloesser, was the top-ranked compound archer in the world. He’s also Dutch and there were cameras everywhere with a crowd surging behind their man.

Lutz, meanwhile, had barely traveled outside the United States. Three years earlier, he was playing on the boys’ golf team for Oregon High School and planning to work in the family home-exterior-improvement business in Madison upon graduating.

During the tournament in June 2019, an archery writer wrote that the 21-year-old Lutz was entirely unknown on the international circuit less than a month earlier.

In the head-to-head quarterfinal in which each contestant shoots 15 arrows at targets 50 meters away, both Schloesser and Lutz hit the tiny center ring — 3 inches in diameter  — 14 times.

There would be a one-arrow shoot-off — best shot advances.

Here is what Lutz, the upstart who should have been a nervous wreck, was thinking: “If I need to make one arrow, I’m going to make it.”

James Lutz competing at world archery championship

James Lutz at the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championship. (Courtesy of USA Archery)

A 2016 Oregon High School graduate, Lutz grew up outside the village on a 10-acre property owned by his parents, James and Lisa Lutz. His dad is an outdoorsman.

“I watched him shoot bows, and when I was about 8, I got a little kid’s bow,” Lutz says. “I’d shoot at targets with him.”

As a teen, Lutz got a bigger bow but set it aside to play team sports. It was only after graduating, while working for ABC Seamless Home Specialists, that Lutz picked up the bow again.

“I was bored after work,” he says. “I didn’t want to just watch TV or play video games. I thought, ‘Let’s try to get good at something.’ ”

He started showing up at bow and gun clubs in Oregon and Stoughton, shooting in leagues, impressing the locals. With a bow and arrow, Lutz was a natural. He hungered to improve.

“He’d come over and ask questions about sighting and form,” says Don Ward, one of Lutz’s archery mentors. “He’s never lost that desire to get better.”

Ward, who currently lives in Loganville, retired last fall after some 20 years as an archery professional. He says as much as 90% of archery is mental, staying cool and focused shot after shot. Ward appreciates Lutz’s mix of talent and determination. “He doesn’t like to miss.”

Lutz’s meteoric rise began with his first tournament outside of Dane County, indoors in Beloit. Twelve rounds — “ends” in archery parlance — of five arrows each, aiming from 20 yards at a center ring, or “x ring,” the size of a quarter. Lutz put all 60 of his arrows in the x ring and won.

James Lutz drawing his arrow

Photo by John Ficenec

“It was a surprise to me,” he says. “But in my mind, I thought if I can hit it once, I can hit it 100 times.”

Lutz began entering more prestigious events. In a series across the country under the auspices of the National Field Archery Association, he did well enough to qualify for both the World Championship in the Netherlands last June and an international event in Antalya, Turkey, a month earlier.

For Lutz, the tournament in Turkey — in May 2019 — had a nightmare beginning. His flight out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport was delayed a full day. He slept in the airport and when he got to Turkey his bow case wasn’t there. Lutz slept three hours and was putting together the backup bow of his friend, Braden Gellenthien — No. 1 in the world as of December 2019 — when someone came to his hotel from the airport with his bow.

It cleared his head and Lutz went on to win the Turkey event, shocking the archery world. Lutz shot a perfect score of 150 in the final.

He was not, then, completely unknown at the world championship in the Netherlands in June. But he was a decided underdog when he reached the quarterfinals against Schloesser, the hometown hero.

As noted, their match was decided by a one-arrow shoot-off. Schloesser barely missed the center ring.

Lutz didn’t miss.

He won his semifinal match and then faced Norwegian Anders Faugstad for the world title.

james lutz holds awards with runners up

Photo by USA Archery

“I felt like I was shooting at home,” Lutz says. “I wasn’t in a zone, but I was just really relaxed and comfortable.”

Lutz built a lead, and with one arrow to go he only needed something reasonably close. “I just pulled it back, nice and easy, and shot.”

A moment later, he was the world compound archery champion, the first American to win in a decade.

“The crowd went crazy,” Lutz says.

Lutz is now dedicating himself to archery full time, saying that it is possible for top players to earn a living through tournament winnings and sponsorships. Lutz’s tentative schedule has him competing in 29 events worldwide in 2020.

“I feel like I’m still on the way up,” he says. “Trying to stay hungry and stay competitive.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his blog, “Doug Moe’s Madison,” on madisonmagazine.com.