By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — When Tiger Woods walked up to James Leitz last week at the Atlanta Athletic Club during the 2011 PGA Championship, shaking his hand and thanking Leitz for his help, it was one of those moments the Slidell golf pro will probably never forget.
“Tiger Woods thanking me? Sure, it was very exciting when I thought back on it,” said Leitz, the 29-year club pro at Pinewood Country Club. “But the most exciting part for me is if I help him, and he gets his swing back.”
What is all this talk about a Slidell golf pro working with Tiger Woods, the world’s most famous golfer, and trying to help him regain the form that made him the best in the world?
No, it is not a dream or some rumor floating around Slidell, as much as it may sound like it.
Leitz, the longtime Pinewood pro, did, in fact, get called by the golf coach of Woods, and was invited to the PGA Championship last week to offer his opinion and advice about Woods’ swing, and why he has gone into a golfing slump for months.
For Leitz, it was a culmination of years of research into the golf swing, and what happens when the club impacts the golf ball and sends it flying. Little known to most people in Slidell, Leitz has quietly become one of the foremost authorities in the nation—and maybe the world—on the topic.
The notoriety for Leitz has been building for years. He has spoken at national PGA seminars in recent years, and then made a video for the TrackMan computer system, now recognized by most golfers in the world as the most comprehensive golf swing and ball flight analysis tool.
Leitz is considered one of the world’s top experts with TrackMan, and it was that video which led Woods’ golf coach, Sean Foley, to call Leitz earlier this year.
“My assistant pro, Corey Weber, answered the phone one day in late March and suddenly realized it was Sean Foley, who he knew as Tiger Woods’ coach,” Leitz said.
Foley had seen Leitz’ videos on the TrackMan website, and was so impressed, it led to the phone call on March 29.
“When I called him back later that night, the first thing he told me was that he had seen my video on TrackMan, and thought it was the best information he had ever seen on impact of the club and ball,” Leitz said. “That was total validation for all the research I have done on the subject.”
Leitz said he talked to Foley “probably seven or eight times in the past five months,” always discussing what Leitz calls “the geometry of physics at impact. That is ultimately why the ball goes where it goes.”
Little known to many, Leitz has made it his life’s work to study the topic of “impact.” His work has not gone unnoticed in the golfing world, moving him up the ladder to the PGA teaching division leadership.
Leitz was certified as one of the top four teaching professionals in the United States during an initial set of workshops put on by the PGA, which opened the door to many national speaking engagements over recent years. He has been invited to speak to the European PGA this October, which will take place at the Madrid Masters.
“What’s interesting about the study I have done is that I never had to leave Slidell to do it,” Leitz said. “I have a golfing studio here that is probably one of the most technologically advanced studios in the world.”
All that knowledge Leitz has comprised, leading to the video for TrackMan, was the open door to last week’s appearance at the PGA Championship, where he stood 10 feet from Tiger Woods for much of two days, both on the range and as he walked nine practice holes both days with Foley and Woods.
“The entire time I was there with Tiger, I remained low key,” Leitz said. “Sure, we talked a little, but I was mainly there to observe, and that’s what I did.”
When the day was over, Leitz was ready to leave the Atlanta course after watching Tiger address questions in the media tent. As usual, thousands of golf fans converged around Tiger everywhere he went.
“The press conference was over so I started to walk away and suddenly Tiger comes out of the media tent, comes over to me with all these people around him, shakes my hand and thanked me for helping him,” Leitz said. “To me, that was validation for all the work I’ve done researching this topic.”
Leitz said Foley thanked him through a text message days later, and said “this was the first time I have ever let anyone shadow me while working with Tiger.”
Leitz remains low key about his part in trying to help Woods get out of his slump.
“There are 100 pieces to the Tiger swing puzzle and I can provide just one or two of those pieces,” he said. “But I know what I teach is valid and can help anyone. It’s a matter of whether Tiger can trust what I have talked to Sean about, trust it in his swing, and see the results.
“When you have the kind of pressure that follows Tiger Woods, it’s more than most people could ever understand,” Leitz said. “On Tuesday when I was on the driving range waiting for him, there were already a thousand people there, waiting for him. When Tiger showed, it must have grown to almost 5,000. Everyone is trying to give him advice to get the old swing back.”
Leitz became nationally certified as a club fitter with the PGA in 1988 and has only seen respect for his knowledge go up since then. He was selected by Golf Digest as a top teacher in Louisiana, has been selected the Louisiana Golf Pro of the Year, and in 1994 was the youngest pro to ever speak to the PGA coaching and teaching summit.
He has had articles published in Golf Magazine, and now has another huge honor coming his way since being contacted by Golf Magazine to have the number one spot in their annual book this fall about golf’s best tips. This year’s book will be the Golf Magazine “Best Driving Instruction Book.”
“Getting to work with Tiger was certainly exciting, but I want to see him get his swing back. Even when it comes to Tiger Woods, my satisfaction is in seeing golfers get better,” Leitz said. “I hope that happens for Tiger and the information I gave them can be a part of that.”