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Notes: Koepka has Tiger's vote for Player of the Year

By Doug FergusonAugust 22, 2018, 12:51 am

PARAMUS, N.J. - Brooks Koepka already can count on one award this year. He has clinched the points-based award from the PGA of America as Player of the Year. Majors are worth 30 points, and there is a 50-point bonus for winning two of them. That gives Koepka 110 points for his U.S. Open and PGA Championship victories.

Even if Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Bubba Watson wins all four FedEx Cup playoff events for seven titles this year, they would not catch Koepka.

The PGA Tour award is a vote of the players.

That's still up for grabs, though Tiger Woods thinks the race is over.

''You win two majors, you've got it,'' Woods said. ''It's not real complicated.''

Woods thought back to 1998, when David Duval won four times on the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour vote went to Mark O'Meara for his Masters and British Open titles.

''I think two majors trumps it,'' he said.


A QUICK TURN FOR THE BETTER

Stewart Cink enters the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 58 in the standings, his best starting position since 2010. Thanks to a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship, he will return to the Masters for the first time in five years.

He would not have seen this coming three months ago.

''The main thing that happened was ... what you think are bad circumstances turn out to be good circumstances,'' Cink said.

Cink enjoys the late spring because he typically plays well on some of those courses, such as Colonial, Muirfield Village and Quail Hollow. Bad final rounds turned potential top 10s into middle-of-the-pack, if not lower. The final straw was Memorial, where he ended a streak of making the cut in 19 consecutive appearances.

''I felt like crap playing bad golf,'' Cink said. ''I had to have a little bit of something to wake me up. I didn't do anything new, I just recommitted to what I was working on the last year.''

That can be a tall order for a 45-year-old whose last victory was the 2009 British Open at Turnberry. Cink put in time with swing coach Mike Lipnick, and he started hitting the ball the way he envisioned the flight. Over the next two months, he had three top 5s - a runner-up at the Travelers Championship when he closed with a 62, and a tie for fourth at the St. Jude Classic and the PGA Championship.

The real test was at Bellerive, where he played in the raucous arena with Tiger Woods in the third round and matched his 66. In the mix at a major for longer than he can remember, Cink finished with two birdies for a 67 to tie for fourth.

''Being paired with Tiger helped me,'' Cink said. ''I was nervous playing with the Tiger. The crowd was a factor. It felt like a Ryder Cup. It was a great challenge, and I really wanted to embrace it and test myself and see how well I can hang in there. I didn't have the option to fall back into a comfort zone. There wouldn't have been one in that group. I'm proud of myself the way I played.''

Cink's five-year exemption to the Masters from his British Open victory ran out in 2014, when he shot 68 on Sunday and missed by one shot finishing in the top 12 to earn a trip back to Augusta National. He looks forward to going back.

But that's in April. Ahead of him is a chance to return home to East Lake for the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009.

''I'm super excited,'' he said. ''I have a better chance to go back to East Lake, and that's a goal from here on out to see if I can make it.''

More than recommitting to his golf, Cink said his heart is in the right place. The last two years have provided the ultimate test after his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. He said her health has been steady - no setbacks - the last several months.

''It goes without saying that my life has taken on a different perspective,'' Cink said. ''I'm enjoying playing golf. I don't have anything to lose. I'm having fun competing, testing myself. There's no downside. ... I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self that.''


WRAPPING UP THE MAJORS

An obscure record was set at the PGA Championship. Seven players had all four rounds in the 60s, led by champion Brooks Koepka. The others were Stewart Cink, Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Webb Simpson.

The previous record was five players with all four rounds in the 60s at Baltusrol in 2016, Valhalla in 2014 and Riviera in 1995.

Koepka and Charl Schwartzel each shot 63 in the second round. That extended the streak to four consecutive years when at least one player shot 63 or better in the majors. Tommy Fleetwood also had a 63 at the U.S. Open, so that makes 2018 the fourth time there were at least three rounds of 63 in the same year. The other years were 1980 (Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf at the U.S. Open, Isao Aoki at the British); 1993 (Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart at the British, Vijay Singh at the PGA); and 2016 (Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the British, Robert Streb at the PGA).

Tiger Woods also got in on the act. His 64 in the final round at Bellerive tied for low score of the round. The last time no one had a lower score than Woods in one round at a major was in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he and Dustin Johnson each shot 66 on Saturday.


DIVOTS

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the leading player in the 2018 world amateur golf ranking. The award gives Kupcho an exemption into the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open provided she stays an amateur. ... Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose each have a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 in the world this week at The Northern Trust. ... The University of St. Andrews is honoring teaching pro Renee Powell and British journalist Katharine Whitehorn by naming a residence hall after each of them. Powell in 2008 became the first female golfer in the five centuries of St. Andrews to receive an honorary doctorate degree. ... Darren Clarke makes his PGA Tour Champions debut this week at the Boeing Classic outside Seattle.


STAT OF THE WEEK

Only two players outside the top 25 in the world have won majors in the last five years. Martin Kaymer was No. 28 when he won the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and Jimmy Walker was No. 48 when he won the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol.


FINAL WORD

''You don't want to be put on the bench in the playoffs.'' - Harris English, whose tie for 11th at the Wyndham Championship was narrowly enough for him to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

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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."

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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.