Convicted killer draws golf art

By Associated PressJune 8, 2013, 6:40 pm

ATTICA, N.Y. – Valentino Dixon's colored pencil drawings evoke carefree days on the links, dewy greens, open spaces, fresh air enlivened by flowers and crisply trimmed fairways.

But the artist has never set foot on a golf course.

For 22 years, Dixon's world has been concrete floors and metal bars, fluorescent lights and tiny spaces.

It is nothing like what appears on paper as he runs rainbows of pencils down to nubs on blades of grass, reflective ponds, sweeping branches – all the while hoping that someday it will exist for him outside of his imagination.

Outside the walls of Attica.

Hope hinges on Dixon's efforts to overturn his conviction for a murder that another man confessed to: the Aug. 10, 1991, shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a crowded street corner on Buffalo's east side.

Proclaiming his innocence through myriad legal motions and appeals, Dixon draws, spending 10 to 12 hours a day illustrating a kind of serenity he has never known.

''They'd have run me out if I talked about golf,'' he said during a recent interview with The Associated Press inside the maximum-security prison, recalling the tough city streets where football and basketball ruled.

He knew early on he had a talent for drawing, copying comic strip characters so perfectly his mother thought he'd traced them. An elementary school teacher guided him into Buffalo's Academy for Visual and Performing Arts for high school. But one class shy of a diploma, he entered a world of drug dealing and guns.

''I know I disappointed my teachers at performing arts,'' he says now, inside this upstate New York fortress infamous for a deadly 1971 riot. ''I wanted to become one of the best in the world.''

Dixon, now 43, knew trouble was brewing that night in 1991. But he said he was inside a store buying beer when he heard the shots that would send four victims to the hospital. Torriano Jackson was shot 27 times, and his older brother, Aaron, was among the wounded.

Attica inmate and golf artist Valentino Dixon

Out on bail with drug and weapons charges pending, Dixon went home and went to bed, he said, only to be arrested the next day.

''I wasn't nervous,'' he said. ''I thought, 'The truth will come out.'''

But when investigators disregarded a confession by 18-year-old LaMarr Scott, saying it was coerced by Dixon's family, Dixon was on his way to trial and a sentence of 39 years to life. With no physical evidence, jurors in Dixon's trial relied on the testimony of three prosecution witnesses, Dixon said, and his own lawyer's refusal to call witnesses of his own. He's eligible for parole in 2030.

''To this day, I'm trying to figure out why they arrested me in the first place,'' he said. Since his conviction, several witnesses have come forward to say Dixon was not the gunman, and he has passed a lie-detector test, all part of his bid for freedom.

None of it sways prosecutor Christopher Belling, who built the case against Dixon.

''He's had at least three appeal proceedings and each time the courts have upheld his conviction,'' said Belling, now senior trial counsel in the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

Sitting in his prison cell in 1998, Dixon picked up the pencils an uncle had sent him and, for the first time in about a decade, began drawing. Animals, landscapes, people. When then-prison Supt. James Conway gave Dixon a picture of the 12th hole of Augusta National, home of the Masters, and asked if he would draw it in 2009, something about it spoke to him.

''I've been drawing the golf courses ever since,'' he said.

Hours of drawing are broken up by workouts, meals, prayers and reading. Earphones counter prison noise with the music of Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Whitney Houston.

Trapping his pencil between his fingers and thumb in a grip that got him in trouble as a boy, the white of the paper disappears completely, as if painted.

''It takes a lot of layering. Colors on top of colors,'' Dixon said, demonstrating a technique honed over time.

Attica inmate and golf artist Valentino Dixon

His mother, Barbara Dixon, knowing her son has never set foot on a golf course, is convinced a higher power is at work.

''Once he started drawing the golf courses, he said, 'Ma, I feel such a sense of peace unlike anything I've ever felt,''' she said.

A fellow inmate's Golf Digest subscription provides the pictures that have been his inspiration. More than 130 golf drawings later, the magazine opened another door with its regular feature, ''Golf Saved My Life,'' written each month by a contributor with staff writer Max Adler.

''I've never hit a golf ball,'' began Dixon's essay, published last July. ''Everything I draw is from inside a 6-by-10 prison cell.''

He described his descent from art student to cocaine dealer to murder suspect to inmate inside Attica's ''honor block'' for those with the cleanest disciplinary records.

''When I was a young man I wasn't useful to society – this I don't argue. But I'm not a murderer,'' the father of three wrote. ''That's the worst thing somebody can be, and I'm not that. I hope all you need to do is look at my drawings to know that.''

Adler spent five months delving into Dixon's story, reading thousands of pages of trial transcripts, police reports and affidavits and interviewing attorneys, the trial judge, a juror, witnesses and others. He followed the inmate's essay with a detailed retelling of the crime and conviction, coming away convinced an injustice had been done.

''In the accumulation of every detail,'' Adler said by phone, ''I'm left without any doubt that he is innocent.''

Shooting victim Aaron Jackson disagrees.

''I'm glad that he's found himself with whatever it is that he's doing,'' said Jackson, a community activist who mentors youth. ''But my younger brother, his life came to a terrible end. ... (Dixon) went to prison and Torriano went to a grave.''

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: