Alabama wins women's NCAA title; Jao-Javanil individual champ

By Associated PressMay 26, 2012, 12:31 am

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Alabama won its first women's golf title Friday, holding off two-time champ Southern California by a stroke on the 72nd hole in the NCAA Division I championship.

Oklahoma's Chirapat Jao-Javanil won the individual title by four strokes, closing with a 2-under 70 to finish at 6-under 282.

The Crimson Tide gave coach Mic Potter his first national title and first for a program in its seventh trip to the national tournament when senior Brooke Pancake rolled in a 4-footer for par on No. 18. It's the third national title this year for Alabama, which also won in football and women's gymnastics, and sixth for the Southeastern Conference.

''Coach (Nick) Saban practices at our practice facility all the time,'' Potter said of the coach who has two national football titles at Alabama. ''I feel more on his level.''

Alabama finished at 6-over 294 in the fourth round for a 19-over 1,171 total.

Southern Cal trailed Alabama by 14 strokes after 36 holes and by two going into the final round. The national champs in 2003 and 2008 tied the Crimson Tide five times atop the leaderboard and led by five strokes before losing the lead on the back nine. The Trojans shot 293 for a 1,172 total.

''It's never fun to lose by a shot,'' Southern Cal coach Andrea Gaston said. ''And it really wasn't in our hands this time.''

They were followed by LSU (289-1,173) and Virginia (292-1,175), which lost a six-stroke lead in the first round when Elizabeth Brightwell signed an incorrect scorecard.

Jao-Javanil, ranked 59th by GolfStat and 41st by Golfweek, won the first women's individual title for Oklahoma. She got to sit around and watch the scoreboard to see if her score would hold up after not looking at a leaderboard throughout her round.

''I think it was more pressure than actually playing out there because you're looking at the phone and Brooke Pancake's like an awesome player,'' Jao-Javanil said. ''You never know if she could birdie her way in.''

The sophomore from Thailand had won this year at the Central District Invitational and the Golf Week Conference Challenge and finished second at the Big 12 Championship as she helped lead Oklahoma to its first league title since 2000. She finished fifth at the West Regional.

She started the final round tied with Giulia Molinaro of Arizona State and bogeyed No. 18, her ninth hole, after hitting into the water to fall into a three-way tie. But Jao-Javanil birdied No. 1 for a one-stroke lead over LSU's Tessa Teachman, while Molinaro bogeyed to fall to 2 under. Jao-Javanil wrapped up the title with a flourish on another tap-in birdie on the par-5 ninth and soon started getting tweets of congratulations from Oklahoma's football players.

''It's really special,'' Jao-Javanil said. ''I mean because I feel like over here in the U.S. football is a really big sport. To get recognition from them ... we're like the women's golf team.''

Pancake tried to chase down Jao-Javanil and had plenty of holes to do it a pond away from the par-3 course where she first learned to play. But the Alabama senior from Chattanooga bogeyed No. 16 to fall four strokes back with two to play. Pancake shot 73-286. She was followed by Laura Gonzalez of Purdue (70) and LSU's Tessa Teachman (74) at 287.

That left Pancake to help the Tide win the team title.

''I would take the team championship over an individual one every day,'' said Pancake, who will be heading to Scotland soon for the Curtis Cup. ''It means the world, especially since I got to have a lot of my family and friends and such support. My grandfather got to be here. Yeah, it is amazing to have ended my college career like this.''

Southern Cal had gone up by five strokes reaching 13 over with Alabama at 18 over. The Trojans had three bogeys after a couple shots bounced off the hard green into the water on the par-3 No. 16 and finished with eight bogeys and one double bogey in the final five holes combined to just come up short after Sophia Popov and Inah Park birdied No. 18.

''I felt like we got a couple bad breaks,'' Gaston said. ''I don't think we made some bad shots.''

Alabama sophomore Hannah Collier looked at a leaderboard on No. 16 and saw the Tide trailed by five.

''What's left to lose? Might as well swing freely, which Mic always tells me to do,'' Collier said.

She birdied Nos. 17 and 18 in helping swing the lead back.

Alabama junior Jennifer Kirby set up the dramatic finish with a double-bogey on the final hole. Chipping from behind the green, her ball went only a few feet, and her next chip went about 6 feet past the hole before Kirby two-putted. Inah Park then rolled in a 5-footer for birdie, pulling Southern Cal within a stroke of Alabama at 20 over.

Pancake laid up on the par-5 18th with her third shot landing in the trees just left of the fairway. Her shot onto the green wound up about 60 feet from the hole, a shot that would have been perfect for the third-round pin. Pancake hit the right side of the cup, and the ball looked like it might go in before going 4 feet past for par. She holed out the par putt to start Alabama's latest celebration.

Getty Images

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am

By RYAN GRIFFITHS

Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.


Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades


Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

Getty Images

Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.


Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon


"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

Getty Images

Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

Getty Images

Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.


Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.