Athletes are ruled by their superstitions


Bo DeHuff knew he was in trouble. But nobody else did.

Redshirt sophomore DeHuff came to the second hole on the second day of a junior golf tournament as the leader. He held the overnight lead, and he was hitting the ball well. It was his senior year of high school, and he was headed to USC the next year to play on the men’s golf team. He was in a pretty enviable position.

But on that second hole, DeHuff recognized that something wasn’t right. Ever since sixth grade, he had clipped the same divot repair tool to his pocket — every day. As he checked around, he realized the repair tool was nowhere to be found.

Suddenly, just as he seemed to be getting into a groove, he started struggling. The front nine was tough, and he knew that he had to just get through the back nine and close out with a decent score.

He did just that and, with the repair tool recovered and clipped onto his pocket for the next two days, he rebounded and won the junior golf tournament.

Some people might think DeHuff, who is now a golfer on the USC men’s golf team, is crazy. He let a trivial matter, something that shouldn’t have changed the outcome of the match, invade his mindset. Indeed, there was nothing wrong with his swing, his clubs, the course or the weather. So, why should his forgotten divot tool make a difference?

“In golf, a lot of lucky things can happen,” DeHuff said. “You can get a good bounce or a bad break. That is where the superstition develops.”

Part of the wonder of sports is that athletes are superstitious. There might not be a larger group in society that believes so much in the influence of a seemingly meaningless action on performance or outcome. Almost every athlete has some sort of pregame ritual or lucky clothing.

DeHuff strays from those common superstitions. He replaced the repair tool with quarters about three years ago. He now marks his ball on the green with a quarter from the 1960s, because any score in the 60s is a good score for the round.

He makes sure he always has five different quarters from five different years. He even has a superstition within his superstition in that his favorite quarter is one from 1967 because seven is his lucky number. No word on whether he prefers heads or tails.

DeHuff isn’t the only USC athlete who has what could be called unusual superstitions.

Sophomore Ashley Freyer is on the USC women’s soccer team, and, if you’ve ever been to a game and looked closely, you might notice she is one of the only players wearing white cleats. She only wears white cleats, even if it draws comparisons to an iconic Disney character.

“My mom says they look like Mickey Mouse shoes on me,” Freyer said.

Like most athletes, Freyer’s superstition developed after a good performance. She wore white cleats during her freshman year of high school and turned into Cristiano Ronaldo.

From then on, Freyer and her white cleats became a tighter pair than Dennis Rodman and his hair. She tried black cleats once for a week during her senior year. Needless to say, she quickly abandoned those and she will do anything to avoid playing without white cleats.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened a few years ago when she traveled to Arizona for a tournament in high school. She realized two hours before her first game that she forgot her cleats at home in California. So instead of borrowing a teammate’s pair, she went to the nearest soccer store and bought a very cheap pair of white cleats.

“I’m never making that mistake again,” Freyer said.

Freyer knows what it’s like to face the task of playing without being fully prepared, as does sophomore water polo player Matt Burton. Burton has a playlist he listens to before every game, and if it’s time to start before the playlist finishes, Burton gets nervous.

Before Burton’s last game, “I’m Going In” by Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy and Drake blasted from his earbuds. When it came time to go, he was only halfway through the song and started panicking.

“It’s halfway through the song. Everybody’s jumping in the water and I’m just sitting in my locker like come on, come on, come on,” Burton said. “I didn’t get to listen to the full song.”

Usually Burton is able to listen to all three songs on his playlist: Eminem’s “Till I Collapse,” a song by Rage Against the Machine and “I’m Going In.” He changes the playlist after a bad performance, so it says something that he’s had the same playlist the entire year. Like Freyer, he started listening to a set playlist after a good game in high school, and he doesn’t dare to try and play without listening to his songs.

Superstitions are a part of sports, especially USC sports. If DeHuff loses his divot tool, Freyer plays without white cleats or Burton doesn’t listen to his music before a game, they could suffer through a bad performance.

Athletes need superstitions and rely on them as a form of psychological stability and preparation.

It’s not like in Space Jam, when the Monstars steal the talent from the NBA players. Freyer’s talent doesn’t disappear if she loses her white cleats.

But don’t try and steal them from her, because she will find a way to get new ones.

“Spittin’ Sports” runs Fridays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Kenny at klegan23@gmail.com.