Getty Images

Notes: Spieth might look to start season earlier

By Doug FergusonSeptember 12, 2018, 1:52 pm

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Jordan Spieth shed a little insight on his expectations at the beginning of 2016 when he said his goals start with winning and include ''being there'' with a chance in a couple of major championships.

Two years later, he failed to win on the PGA Tour for the second time in six seasons. He was there with a chance at two majors, coming from nine back in the final round at the Masters to within one shot of the lead until a bogey on the 18th hole for a 64. At the British Open, he had a three-way share of the lead in the final round, fell back with bad swings and never caught up at Carnoustie.

The disappointment was missing the Tour Championship for the first time.

''I was in control of my own destiny and didn't have it this week,'' said Spieth, the only player from the top 10 in the world who won't be at East Lake.

It didn't help that Spieth, for the second straight season, sat out the entire fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule. Setting him back even further was missing nearly an entire month with mononucleosis.

That means he will fall short of the minimum 25 tournaments required for those who didn't add to the schedule an event they haven't played in four years. Still to be determined is the punishment. This policy falls under a ''major penalty,'' which comes with at least a $20,000 fine and a suspension of more than three tournaments, although the commissioner has the ultimate say and any suspension will not be in play.

It makes no sense to punish a player who is guilty of not playing enough tournaments by making him sit out even more.

More than money, what really hits home for a player like Spieth is time.

One option would be to increase the number of new events, and that might not be a problem. Even before Spieth was in jeopardy of missing the Tour Championship, he was contemplating adding as many as two North American stops in the fall. Spieth is getting married after the fall season and is likely to pass on overseas travel this year.

That also would solve the problem of not starting a new year feeling as though he were behind. A tournament or two in the fall would give him a chance to make sure the new year starts in Hawaii.

Spieth could use a fresh start.

First, he has the Ryder Cup in France, in which he will not have competed in two weeks. More than not winning this year, Spieth was rarely close. In the 17 stroke-play events that he made the cut, he finished an average of 9.6 strokes out of the lead.

PRESIDENTS CUP: Cameron Smith is at the top of the Presidents Cup standings for the International team. Perhaps even more surprising is to see Thai players Thanyakorn Khrongpha and Rattanon Wannasrichan among the top eight automatic qualifiers.

OK, it's early - very early.

Worth noting, however, is that along with giving the International team four captain's picks for the December 2019 matches in Melbourne, Australia, the qualifications for the International team have been changed. Instead of taking the top players from the world ranking, the International team will be decided by world ranking points earned from the Dell Technologies Championship two weeks ago through the Tour Championship next August.

Thanyakorn won the ISPS Handa Match Play on the Japan Golf Tour. Rattanon won the consolation match.

PROGRESS VS RESULTS: Adam Scott missed the Tour Championship for the third time in the last four years, though he at least had a chance. He wasn't even guaranteed to make the playoffs until a third-place finish in the PGA Championship, followed by a tie for fifth in The Northern Trust.

It did wonders for his confidence. And it started with seeing his name on the leaderboard.

''The game is not very different. But a result, when you're in a results-driven industry, means so much,'' he said. ''Sometimes you've got to fool yourself: 'It's about the process, it's the process, the process.' Well, after like six months, the process needs to yield some results. I was at that point. I needed a result.''

The next step is winning, which he hasn't done since back-to-back victories in the Florida swing in March 2016.

''I'm still about winning,'' Scott said. ''But competing is also part of the result.''

FATHER PEREZ: Pat Perez will never win as many majors as the 18 by Jack Nicklaus. Until the resurgence in his career the last two years, Perez had only played in 18 majors.

But he'll have one thing in common with Nicklaus, who was famous for fainting at the birth of his five children.

''Passed out when they put in the epidural,'' Perez said. ''They had to bring the smelling salts.''

Perez withdrew from the final round of TPC Boston and got home in plenty of time for the Labor Day birth of their daughter, whom they named Piper.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: The ballots won't be due until after the Tour Championship, but Aaron Wise would appear to be a lock for PGA Tour rookie of the year.

The 22-year-old Californian, who was born in South Africa, is the only rookie to reach the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake. That's been the voting pattern, such as in 2015 when Daniel Berger reached the Tour Championship and won the award over Justin Thomas, who missed East Lake by a shot.

The last rookie award for a player not at East Lake was Chesson Hadley in 2014. He won the Puerto Rico Open that year. The last player to win rookie of the year without getting to East Lake or winning a tournament was Rickie Fowler in 2010.

Wise goes to East Lake at No. 21 in the FedEx Cup. He has a victory in the AT&T Byron Nelson and a runner-up finish at the Wells Fargo Championship. His other two top 10s were at a World Golf Championship and a FedEx Cup playoff event.

RECORD STREAK: Sungjae Im probably would have to win one of the last two Tour Finals events to set the single-season money record. He has $550,645, which is short of the $644,142 that Michael Sim of Australia won in 2009.

Im already has one record, though.

He won the opening event on the Tour in the Bahamas and was runner-up in the next one. For the rest of the year, no one caught him. Im, a 20-year-old from South Korea, has been atop the money list for 25 consecutive weeks.

Im also did well enough this year to play in two majors.

DIVOTS: Tiger Woods now has a 14-15 record on the PGA Tour when he has at least a share of the 18-hole lead. He opened with a 62 at the BMW Championship and finished in a tie for sixth. ... Ten players who have yet to win a tournament this season will be at the Tour Championship. That includes Woods, who had never made it to the Tour Championship without having won a PGA Tour event. ... Rory McIlroy says he will start next year on Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions. ... The Country Club of North Carolina will host the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2021.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Keegan Bradley was No. 66 in the world when he won the BMW Championship. It was only the fourth time in 47 tournaments that a player outside the top 50 won a FedEx Cup playoff event.

FINAL WORD: ''He phrases stuff differently than he needs to at times, but the belief in what he's doing is very important in this game.'' - Jordan Spieth, on how much he understands what Bryon DeChambeau is saying.

Doug Ferguson is the national golf writer for The Associated Press.

Getty Images

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

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


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.