Stat attack!: Frys.com Open review

By John AntoniniOctober 13, 2014, 2:43 am

Sang-Moon Bae wasn't at his best on the PGA Tour in 2013-14. The 28-year-old South Korean made just 13 cuts in 24 starts and finished no better than T-12 at the Northern Trust Open. He needed a T-14 finish at the Wyndham Championship just to qualify for the PGA Tour Playoffs, and finished 122nd on the FedEx Cup standings. 

It’s not the type of season he envisioned after winning the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship. Bae was one of seven players who won in 2013 only to fall completely off Tour leaderboards last season, finishing the year without any top 10s. He doesn’t have to worry about a repeat performance this year.

Despite a final-round 73 at Silverado Resort & Spa’s North Course, Bae held on for a two-stroke victory in the PGA Tour’s 2014-15 season-opening Frys.com Open. He shot 15-under 273 to beat Stephen Bowditch by two strokes and take the very early lead in the FedEx Cup standings. We’ll see how important that is in a moment. But first, here are the other 2013 winners who stumbled last season. You’ll certainly remember one of them.

2013 PGA Tour winners with no top 10s in 2013-14

 Player 2013 wins 2013-14 starts Best 2013-14 Frys.com result
 Woody Austin Sanderson Farms 22 T-13 Hyundai T of C DNP
 Sang-Moon Bae  Byron Nelson 24 T-12 Northern Trust Won
 Ken Duke Travelers 25 T-15 Las Vegas MC
 Derek Ernst Wells Fargo 28 T-27 Barracuda T-57
 John Merrick Northern Trust 25 T-19 Phoenix MC
 D.A. Points Shell Houston 27 T-18 Wyndham MC
 Tiger Woods Shell Houston 7 T-25 WGC-Cadillac DNP

A strong start leads to a solid finish

Bae’s victory in northern California could be a harbinger of good things for 2015. Seven off the previous eight winners of the PGA Tour’s season-opening event in the FedEx Cup era would finish in the top 30 on the money list and qualify for the Tour Championship. Only Daniel Chopra, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions winner in 2008, failed to reach those standards.

Bae, who qualifies for the Hyundai T of C, the PGA Championship and very likely the Masters as a result of Sunday’s win, is almost assured of having a career-best season. The third-year player was 96th on the FedEx Cup standings in 2013 when he won outside Dallas.

Season-ending points and money ranks by the winner of the PGA Tour’s first event

 Year Winner Reg. season FedEx rank Final FedEx rank Final money rank
 2014 Jimmy Walker 2 7 4
 2013 Dustin Johnson 16 13 19
 2012 Steve Stricker 10 20 18
 2011 Jonathan Byrd 24 27 22
 2010 Geoff Ogilvy 39 14 29
 2009 Geoff Ogilvy 8 13 8
 2008 Daniel Chopra 40 102 52
 2007 Vijay Singh 2 10 3

Presidential dreams

We’re still a year away from the 2015 Presidents Cup, but Bae’s win should get him prime consideration for selection to the International team, even if he doesn’t make the squad on merit. The tournament will be held in his homeland of South Korea and a host country has never had a player on the team.

What’s more, since the Presidents Cup began, only one International winner has failed to make the team after winning an event prior to the Cup being held in his homeland. That was Rory Sabbatini, who won the 2003 FBR Capital Open, yet didn’t get play in the Presidents Cup when it was held at the Links at Fancourt in South Africa that fall. (Although Stephen Ames won the 2007 Children’s Miracle Network Classic, he can hardly be faulted for not making the Presidents Cup in Canada that year. The Cup was held about two months before he won at Disney that fall.)

PGA Tour winners playing the Presidents Cup in their homeland

 Year Country Home players who made the team
(bold indicates tournament winner that year)
 2011 Australia Robert Allenby, Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott
 2007 Canada Mike Weir
 2003 South Africa Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark
 1998 Australia Stuart Appleby, Steve Elkington, Greg Norman, Craig Parry

Auspicious starts

PGA Tour rookie Zachary Blair had a first-hand look at Bae’s victory Sunday, as the 24-year-old Utahan was paired with the South Korean in the final group in the final round. The day didn’t go well for Blair, who shot 74 to fall to T-12, still not a bad week for the player making his second PGA Tour appearance after a T-40 debut at the 2014 U.S. Open.

The $117,600 Blair won will go a long way toward paying for his November wedding to Alicia Watkins. The couple was scheduled to wed in October, but their plans were changed when Blair surprised even himself by qualifying for the PGA Tour via the Web.com Tour Finals Series.

He was one of seven rookies making his first or second Tour appearance at the Frys.com Open. Three of them made the cut, including Byron Smith, who began the week as the third alternate and got into the field when Alex Prugh withdrew.   

Frys.com finish of players making their first or second start on Tour

 Player Previous starts Frys finish
 Whee Kim 0 MC
 Byron Smith 0 T-19
 Daniel Berger 1 MC
 Zachary Blair 1 T-12
 Tom Hoge 1 MC
 Carlos Ortiz 1 T-57
 Zack Sucher 1 MC

Silverado success

The Johnny Miller-redesigned North Course at Silverado Resort & Spa made a successful return to the PGA Tour. The par-72 venue played to a scoring average of 71.704, slightly harder that CordeValle did a year ago (-0.296 to -0.650). It was the eighth-toughest course the PGA Tour has used in the Fall Series since the format began in 2007.

At Silverado, just 56.44 percent of drives found the fairway, which would have ranked 12th on Tour in 2014. Its greens in regulation percentage was 66.14 percent, which would have been 32nd among the courses used a year ago. 

Toughest Fall Series courses: 2007-2014

 Course Tournament Scoring average to par
 Atunyote GC 2008 Turning Stone +0.968
 Conservatory Course 2008 Ginn Sur Mer +0.956
 Seaside Course 2013 McGladrey +0.255
 CordeValle  2010 Frys.Com +0.010
Annandale GC 2007 Viking  -0.020
Kuala Lumpur G&CC 2013 CIMB  -0.035
Annandale GC 2010 Viking -0.041
Silverado North 2014 Frys.com -0.296
Seaside Course 2011 McGladrey -0.429
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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.

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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.


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.