Pressure and Sports….and Randy Johnson

April 14, 2008 |

I heard one of the announcers make a comment during the Masters. Apparently, this was the first time since 2000 that the same two players played in the final pairings on both Saturday and Sunday. He went on to say that this is because one player usually handles the Saturday pressure and on player doesn’t. I find this, as a blanket statement, to be idiotic.
So many fans an announcers talk about choking, making it seem like every player or team that loses is because the pressure got to them or that somehow their head wasn’t right. There’s a reason that a lot of guys shoot 74’s at Augusta. It’s because the course it hard. You’re not supposed to score well. Guys go out in golf events all the time feeling nice and relaxed, with clear heads, and don’t play well. Ask Drew Forrester, who is probably the most accomplished golfer any of us have contact with. Ask him how many times he went on and played a nothing round with no pressure and was as focused as possible and just couldn’t get it going. Just couldn’t make puts; couldn’t hit any irons close. Golf is a tough game.
I read a message board Saturday night after the Yankees/Red Sox game. There were threads titled things like “Choke Rod,” because Alex Rodriguez struck out with two on and two outs in the eighth inning. No one talked about the fact that it was off Jonathan Papelbon who threw two, well placed, 95+ fastball and an unhittable splitter.
I’m not saying that there aren’t times when it would seem like pressure was an obvious issue. The first two that come to mind are Greg Norman at Augusta and Jana Novotna at Wimbledon. I think you see it most often with missed free throws late in college basketball games, or relievers who walk in the winning run on four, very, wild fastballs. In general, however, people lay too much on pressure. These guys are used to pressure. If we see these athletes on television, they’ve obviously had an extreme amount of success in their athletic careers. It’s not like they’ve never come through with their backs to wall.
Also, Randy Johnson makes his first start of the season today (Monday). He has 284 wins. He will also turn 45 in September. Can the Big Unit be the next, and maybe the last pitcher to win 300 games? My guess is that his body won’t hold up long enough for him to make it, although making his first start against the Giants gives him a really good chance to be 1-0.