Why I Rooted Against Tom Watson

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I was all set to root for 59 year old Tom Watson to win the British Open today.

And then I watched the Sports Reporters. And on the Sports Reporters, trumpeting Watson's chance to win and framing the narrative for when he did, Mitch Albom mumbled something about spirtuality, perhaps as an outline for The Five Golfers You Meet in Heaven and Mike Lupica talked about the "champions DNA" that Watson possessed - that in a crucial situation, say with a short putt to win the tournament, he could draw on his inner character, his heart, his guts, his "muscle memory" of being an inner circle HOF golfer and the ghosts of '77 would rise up and guide in his ball.

And I just couldn't, you know? I just can't line up on Lupica's side. That's where I am at this point in my life.

Rooting is far less a logical "choice" than it is something that you feel; I should root for Steve Nash because I like his politics; I do root for Brock Lesnar because, you know, Here Comes the Pain and that shooting star press in Seattle and I heart graps. I've never had any real thoughts about Tom Watson; largely he came and went before my time as even a moderate golf fan, and as a kid, I liked Jack, and that meant I didn't like Watson.

But come on. Tom Watson stands on the 18th green looking over an 8 footer to win the British Open (which has always been my favorite tournament, it looks cold and spartan and that's how I want my golf to look) in 2009; I guess the closest analogy would be George Foreman knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994 to become Heavyweight Champion of the World - you're just dead inside if you aren't rooting for him.

Particularly in HD - in HD you could see - and I don't have a more delicate way to say this - you could see that Tom Watson was a 60 year old guy with a 60 year old neck. The discoloration, the flaking, the "grampa, have you been to see the dermatologist about that" neck. And if you're a 38 year old man whose best days (foreshadowing! won't this seem all the more poignant by year's end!) are perhaps in his rear view watching Tom Watson about to win the British Freaking Open, you can't help but pull for him.

But I didn't - the feeling I had when he missed the putt was relief that it didn't mean a tsunami of "it's the heart that really matters in sports - you can take all your numbers and your evidence and your analysis and just throw it all away because what you can't measure is the true inner character that is the Lion - and don't forget about the baby Jesus who was with Tom Watson surely as he stood over the...."

Because that's what you would heave heard. And you would have heard it forever. The Sports Industrial Complex doesn't care about facts, doesn't care about truth. Stuff your statistics in a sack. Tell the truth to shut up.

Sportswriters have stories to make up. After all, that's all they can do.

But the story here won't be "huh, I guess it's not really about champions DNA after all. I goofed" any more than the story when Derek Jeter can't get to (another) ground ball isn't "maybe he doesn't have a magical champions clutch ability that rises to the surface when lesser men (men who rely on needles, men like that ARod, such a joke and a fraud, with his meaningless homeruns) wither and fade away." The Sports Industrial Complex is the ultimate example of confirmation bias - the evidence that supports their conclusions ("see, we told you Barry Bonds was a bad guy") they write until they run out of ink and the evidence that contradicts what they told us for years and years (google Evander Holyfield and steroids, hell google Evander Holyfield and baby daddy) they conveniently ignore. Mike Lupica's going to keep writing about sports as morality tale, about clubhouse chemistry and championship character. If Kobe loses last year it's because he has a fundamental selfishness that keeps him from being a true champion; if he wins this year it's because he's now grown up and learned how to be a real leader.

It's all made up. Every word.

You keep betting on heart and courage and will and all that invisible stuff that makes for compelling copy but is entirely made up. I'll bet on the best players. We'll see how things work out. (Thanks for paying my cable bill this month, Brock. Appreciate it.)

Sorry, Tom. It's not your fault. My ability to tolerate invisible nonsense has been whittled to the nub in my old age.


Blog said...

Do your stats take anything like team chemistry into account? Or manager ability (are there any stats for managers besides win-loss record?) Or, for individual sports, how one player matches up against another?

Your approach is based on data, but incomplete data, which may or may not be better than the emotional approach to gambling.

Jim said...

I don't believe those things matter in even a fraction of the way the public has been told that they do.

Nope on chemistry. Phony. Storytime stuff. Nope on coaches. Lots of guys in suits standing around. Matchups are a little more complicated.

Blog said...

Do you have an explanation for this year's overachieving Mariners team (that once again took two of three in a series against a better team without outscoring them) that doesn't use the words chemistry, manager, luck, or any synonyms thereof?

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