Palmer Ends Competitive Career at Augusta

By Associated PressApril 9, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A wink, a hug, a wave to the crowd. Without even swinging a club, Arnold Palmer has always known how to make the people smile.
 
The King did it again Friday, closing out his competitive career at the Masters during one last sentimental stroll around Augusta National, the course he carried straight into American culture over the past 50 years.
 
'It's not fun sometimes to know it's over,' he said afterward, fighting through the tears.
 
But it sure was fun to watch him go.
 
Or maybe touching is more like it.
 
The day began when he burst onto the first tee box and headed immediately toward the ropes - slapping hands, hugging and sharing words with many of the loyal fans who staked out ground early to see him on his way.
 
He closed out his career at Augusta with a second straight 84, but the score didn't matter. Like his age - 74 - it was just a number. What the thousands who watched him really cared about was that time he looked their way, or said 'Hello,' or gave them one of those trademark winks, or that famous thumbs-up signs.
 
'He has a way of making everybody think he's looking at them,' said Col. Joe Curtis, who has followed Arnie for 49 years at Augusta, the last few in an electric wheelchair. 'That's called charisma.'
 
Back in the day, when Palmer had the game to go with the charisma, he brought golf, a sport for blue bloods and the country-club set, straight to the average man.
 
He won the Masters four times, and it was during the first win, in 1958, that the phenomenon known as 'Arnie's Army' began.
 
'They were holding up signs,' Palmer said.
 
He recalled a meeting the next year with then-chairman Cliff Roberts, who 'came up to me and said, `We're going to ban signs. You caused us a problem with those signs.' I told him I didn't have any problem with that.'
 
And really, it didn't take signs to spot a member of the Army. That was as clear back then as it was in his finale.
 
'He's a boyhood idol of mine,' said 49-year-old Dave Bockorny, who caught Palmer's eye during the round. 'I just respect him so much.'
 
Bockorny said he loved watching Arnie go for broke and take big chances in spots where other players would have played it safe.
 
That's what helped Palmer win here in 1958, when he went for the shot across the stream and made eagle on No. 13. It was also one of the hundreds of memories racing through Palmer's mind as he took his long, final walk up the 18th fairway.
 
'If you just use your imagination, you'll understand the emotion,' Palmer said. 'I think about how many times I walked up that 18th fairway. I think of the four times I won the Masters, and the couple times I didn't when I should have won. I think of the fans who've supported me, and I listen to them.'
 
They were out there all day Friday, enjoying every little nugget Palmer offered.
 
The best picture may have come on No. 6, when he hit a perfect tee shot down to the green on the little par-3. Jack Nicklaus was playing on the adjacent hole, No. 16, and the Golden Bear took note, giving Arnie a thumbs-up sign. Palmer replied with a bow to Nicklaus and there they were, the King and the Bear enjoying golf together, however briefly.
 
On No. 9, Palmer stopped to give his oldest granddaughter, Emily Saunders, a hug. It wasn't the only time he went to the ropes to greet a family member. He said this was the first time his entire family had been there to see him play.
 
'He was so glad the whole family could be part of it today,' Saunders said.
 
Palmer's family extends well beyond blood, though.
 
He helped make the game popular at a time when televised sports were just taking hold. Fathers passed on their love of the game to their sons, and many a boy - and girl - learned to play the game simply because they wanted to be like Arnie.
 
'I don't like golf, I just like Arnold,' said Ellen DuBois, attending her 49th Masters. 'It's his last and it's my last. I'm not coming anymore.'
 
Sadly, the party is over for lots of Palmer's fans. They can be thankful, at least, that they got a two-year reprieve from when Palmer said farewell to Augusta National in 2002. Back then, he felt like he was being pushed out by the club, which was trying to weed out past champions who weren't competitive anymore.
 
Arnie and chairman Hootie Johnson conferred and agreed it just didn't feel right.
 
'The fact is, the one thing I wanted to do is what I did today, and that was finish 50 years at Augusta,' Palmer said.
 
Sensing the history, a handful of players and caddies and pretty much all the members with green jackets hung around late to watch him finish. Thousands of fans crowded the 18th green, standing 10 and 15 deep - craning their necks, teetering on tiptoes, doing anything to get a glimpse.
 
What they saw was a reminder of their hero's present, not his glorious past. His second shot on the long par-4 was short and left of the green. Palmer pitched perfectly 4 feet below the hole, only to push the par putt badly to the right. There was no farewell gift from the golf gods to tempt a return.
 
'It's done,' Palmer said. 'I won't say I'm happy it's done, but it's time for it to be done for me.'
 
Indeed, he may be right.
 
On Friday, though, it was hard to imagine that the rest of his Army agreed.
 
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Masters Photo Gallery
  • Tee Times
  • Arnold Palmers 50th Masters
     
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    Web.com Tour releases 2019 schedule, trims Finals

    By Will GraySeptember 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

    The Web.com Tour has officially released its full schedule for the 2019 season, a slate that will feature a Labor Day finish and only three Finals events as opposed to four.

    The developmental circuit will feature 27 tournaments, the same number as this season. Things will kick off in the Bahamas for the third straight year, as two events in the islands begin a stretch of five events in as many weeks across four different countries.

    The Feb. 14-17 Suncoast Classic in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., will be the first domestic event of 2019, and one of three new events to the schedule. Also added are the Evans Scholars Invitational in suburban Chicago and the TPC Colorado Championship in Berthoud, Colo.

    But with the PGA Tour overhauling its schedule and dropping a FedExCup playoff event to finish ahead of football season, the Web.com schedule also features changes next year. The Web.com Tour Finals, which are used to determine the 50 players who will be promoted to the PGA Tour for the following season, will now feature only three events and follow a similar timeline.

    The first Finals event will be the Aug. 15-18 Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, followed by the Albertsons Boise Open. The season will conclude Aug. 30-Sept. 2 with the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., one week after the PGA Tour season ends with the revamped Tour Championship in Atlanta.

    The DAP Championship at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, a Finals event for each of the last three years, has been dropped from the 2019 schedule. Gone, too, are the North Mississippi Classic in Oxford and the Rust-Oleum Championship in Ivanhoe, Ill.

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    Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

    By Tiger TrackerSeptember 20, 2018, 1:30 pm

    Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.


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    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.

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    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."