Notes: Watson coming up aces, feeling like a kid again

By Doug FergusonJuly 15, 2011, 8:56 pm

SANDWICH, England – Tom Watson refuses to be a ceremonial player, especially when it comes to the British Open. He showed what he was talking about Friday when he quickly turned things around with a hole-in-one on the sixth hole.

Watson drilled a 4-iron from about 160 yards into the wind, a shot that looked good from the time of that crisp click off his club. He never saw the ball bang against the pin and disappear, and he paused slightly even after hearing a sudden burst of cheering from fans perched atop the tall dunes surrounding the green.

He raised his arms, and eventually turned and took a bow for a packed grandstand behind him.

“I didn’t see it,” Watson said. “You can’t see it go in. I just saw it on the replay in there. It was a slam dunk. If it missed the flag it would’ve been 30 feet by. But it was lucky. They’re all lucky when they go in. But that’s what I was aiming at.”

It’s not all luck when it comes to Watson and the British Open he has won five times.

The oldest player in the field at 61, he wound up with an even-par 70 and was at 2-over 142, only six shots behind going into the final two rounds at Royal St. George’s. Not many expect him to contend, even though memories are fresh from when he came within one putt of winning at Turnberry two years ago. Perhaps that’s because Watson has struggled with his putting over the first two days.

Watson isn’t about to give up.

“If my putting was a little bit better, I’d give myself at least an outside chance, let’s put it that way,” he said.

The ace was the 15th of his career, many of them in competition. And it stirred some recollections of other times he made a hole-in-one.

His favorite came at Oakmont in 1969 at the U.S. Amateur. Watson already was 4 over through seven holes when he came to the monstrous par-3 eighth hole. He hit 3-iron into the cup for a hole-in-one, then made birdie on the ninth to get back into the game.

“That’s a really tough golf course, and that kind of got me back into the tournament,” he said. “And I ended up qualifying for The Masters by finishing fifth. So that kind of propelled me onto that.”

And then there was the first one, which did not come with the kind of applause he heard Friday.

In fact, no one clapped at all.

He was about 11 of 12, playing alone at Kansas City Country Club, when he made an ace on the second hole. Then came the desperate search for a witness. Seems there was a promotion in Golf Digest that if someone made a hole-in-one with a Dunlop ball, it would be used to make a plaque. All that was required was the ball, scorecard and a witness.

“My elation went from here,” Watson said, holding his hand high, “to, ‘Oh, man.”’

Watson said John Cosnotti, the assistant pro, walked over to the window and looked some 400 yards toward the second hole and said, “You know, Tom, I saw that go in.”

Watson still has the plaque.

SCHWARTZEL’S BOUNCES: Masters champion Charl Schwartzel was feeling better about his chances after a 67 in the second round. He’s not sure he hit the ball any better than Thursdays, but the bounces seemed to go his way.

And yes, there are a lot of bounces.

“Yesterday I felt I was playing well. I was hitting good shots and I was getting penalized for it,” Schwartzel said. “I was hitting tee shots on the lines I was aiming for—and you’re talking one yard either way and you’re absolutely perfect—and you end up in bunkers and chipping out sideways, and now all of a sudden grinding for bogeys.

“After a while,” he said, “that starts getting frustrating.”

Then again, the South African realizes that everyone is playing the same course. Everyone will be getting the odd bounce during a round.

“That’s what you sort of comfort yourself on,” he said. “You hope someone else is getting these sort of breaks.”

Schwartzel did get some good fortune of his own in the second round. His 3-wood into the par-5 14th was headed for trouble to the left when it struck a spectator in the head and bounced back toward a bunker. He wound up making par.

“It was actually a good break,” he said. “I felt sorry for the guy, but it’s one of those things.”

STRICKER STRIKES AGAIN: Steve Stricker has a chance at a feat achieved only once, and that was 40 years ago—winning a tour event, then winning the British Open the next week.

Lee Trevino did that in 1971 with the Canadian and British Open. Only nine other players have won the week before winning a major, the most recent being Tiger Woods at the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in 2007.

Oddly enough, Stricker couldn’t crack the top 50 the last two years that he won the John Deere Classic. On Friday, Stricker had a bogey on the easy par-5 seventh, but made enough birdies for a 71 and was only four shots out of the lead.

BACK HOME: Perhaps one reason Darren Clarke is having his best British Open in a decade is his move back home to Northern Ireland, mainly for his two sons and their schooling.

“The right time for Tyrone, my first born, to be with everybody else,” said Clarke, whose wife died of cancer in 2006. “It’s a lot easier to play better whenever family life and stuff at home is much better, much more stable again.”

The other perk?

Returning to Royal Portrush, the only links course outside Britain to host the Open Championship. It’s where Clarke grew up, learning to cope with strong wind and harsh weather. That’s what players generally face at the Open, and what they likely will get on the weekend.

“I’ve been doing a lot of practicing in bad weather because that’s usually what we get at Portrush,” he said. “It’s not always that bad. But it’s certainly been tough conditions practicing, not quite as easy as it was when I was living in London. It’s a case of getting used to playing in bad weather on links again, and that’s what I’ve been doing all over the winter and stuff at home. Hopefully, it will stand me in good stead.”

AGELESS LINKS: Tom Lehman has played three PGA Tour events this year with modest results. Put the 52-year-old on a links course that measures 7,211 yards and plays to a par 70, and he looks like a kid again.

Tom Watson is 61, nearly won the British Open two years ago, and will be playing on the weekend at Royal St. George’s.

Lehman is not surprised.

“Not being able to carry the ball as far actually benefits you in some ways on a lot of these tee shots,” said Lehman, who won the 1996 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. “The balls that travel so much further in the air tend to land in sports which are a lot more bouncy, a lot more humps and bumps, and balls that fly shorter—like mine—tend to land on more flat spots.”

Lehman said that’s true at some links, but especially here.

“That’s one reason the older guys, or the more experienced guys, are able to do OK,” he said. “Length isn’t required. It’s more about accuracy and the line you take and hitting it where you’re aiming.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.