124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Tiger Woods, through no fault of his own, inspires mass American delusion

July 20, 2020

Sam Greenwood

One of my favorite psychological phenomenons in global sports is the way that a huge chunk of English soccer fans believe that their team will win the World Cup every single year. It's like they can't help themselves, even though every year the same exact thing happens: They lose to Germany or Argentina in penalties. Okay, that's an over-simplification...what actually happens is that they mostly lose to Germany or Argentina, but sometimes to other countries too. In any case, there's no good reason for English fans to expect victory at any World Cup, but the memory of winning one at home almost 50 years ago has not dimmed, and every four years, the baseless optimism courses through British brains like a deadly virus, or a collective madness.

America doesn't quite have that in sports. Our national teams are either so good that it makes sense to believe they'll win, or so bad that we mostly ignore them. The only real exceptions come in golf. There are two delusions we share in this sport that rise above all others:

1. We always think the U.S. is going to win the Ryder Cup, despite ample evidence from the last 40 years that they probably won't.

2. We always think Tiger Woods is going to win each tournament he plays.

It's the latter one that surprised me yet again this past weekend. In his tournament back in months, Tiger struggled at the Memorial, barely making the cut at +3 and then fading down the leaderboard with a Sunday 76. No surprise there; the man's 44 and hasn't played in a while. Making the cut is pretty good!

But to hear the coverage beforehand and during the event, you'd think the Soviet hockey team had just lost the 1980 Olympics all over again. None of the hysteria makes sense until you recognize that we—and by we I mean the golf-watching and golf-covering public—are incapable of treating Tiger with any degree of realism. He was too good for too long, and even when he stopped being too good, he was still larger-than-life. At some point we lost our tether, and his 2019 Masters win made it seem like the doubters were the crazy ones. I don't think we're ever returning to sanity. For as long as this guy tees it up, up to and including when he hits ceremonial tee shots at Augusta as an old man, in our deepest hearts we'll believe he's the favorite.

And in some weird way, he's probably earned it.

Bizarre Baseball Incident of the Week: Domingo German's "Retirement"

In the ESPN story about suspended Yankee pitcher Domingo German's Instagram posts, there's a reference to "cryptic" posts on Instagram "implying he was retiring from baseball." But, uhhh...these posts were not cryptic, and went well beyond implication. Here's the translated text of his second post:

"I've left baseball. Thanks everyone."

Nope! That's pretty unambiguous! Seems like a straightforward point to me.

German walked it back, saying he's had a tough year—he's currently in the midst of an 81-game suspension for an alleged domestic violence incident which will keep him out for the entire shortened 2020 season—and clearly he was having a bad night when he posted. To his credit, I guess, he didn't try to pretend his words were misinterpreted or anything like that. But it's still a bad indicator of how life has been going for German since the suspension began, and not the greatest sign for Yankee fans who want to see him back, healthy, reformed, and effective in 2021.

Feel-Good Baseball Story of the Week: Freddie Freeman's Recovery

Freeman, the Braves' four-time All-Star, got hit hard by COVID-19, and told reporters that his temperature got so high at one point—104.5—that he said a prayer not to die. Within two days, his fever broke, and reading about him now is to see the simple joy for life of a man who legitimately wasn't sure if he'd ever be out on the field again. Check this out from ESPN:

Freeman's appreciation of being back with the team was obvious. The Braves posted video on the team's Twitter account of Freeman, carrying his bat and glove, saying "This is wonderful" as he walked out of the dugout and looked out at the field on Friday.

"I feel like I'm a kid in a candy store again," he said Saturday. "You forget sometimes how much you love this game. I did truly miss it. I was so excited when I got to the yard."

It doesn't get better than this:

And here's Freeman talking about how bad it got for him:

"The pleasure of being alive" isn't a genre we experience often in 2020, so thank you, Freddie Freeman. We needed that.

Sports City Humiliation of the Weekend: London over Manchester

The F.A. Cup finals were held on Saturday and Sunday, with both matches featuring a London vs. Manchester clash of juggernauts. Saturday, Arsenal upset Manchester City, and Chelsea made it two-for-two for London with a 3-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday. That's a bit brutal, since London is already the nicer place to live, but anyway...check out the build-up on Arsenal's first goal. It's a full-field thing of beauty:

As for Man U, the lion's share of blame goes to David DeGea, who got a hand on every goal but couldn't make the stops, as you see here:

The good news is, it's going to be a delightful London derby for the final, featuring two young and exciting coaches in Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta. And unlike certain upcoming American sports (*cough* NBA *cough), this one's definitely going to happen!