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Cut Line: Say bye-bye to 'bye' week

By Rex HoggardSeptember 14, 2018, 4:41 pm

There’s no cut this week as the PGA Tour endures its annual playoff intermission, but there’s still plenty to cover in what will be the final “bye”-week edition of Cut Line.

Made Cut

The envelope, please. This was a foregone conclusion for some time, but with just a single playoff event remaining it’s time to end the pretense and ship the Jack Nicklaus Award to Brooks Koepka, the only two-time major winner on Tour this season.

Just as clear is the race for the Rookie of the Year Award. Aaron Wise won the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and is the only rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship (he's 21st on the points list). Austin Cook also won this season (RSM Classic), but failed to qualify for the finale.

Voting begins after the Tour Championship and concludes on Oct. 1, but the Tour may want to save the postage and just call this race now.

Bye “bye” week. This will be the final year for what has turned into an awkward lull in the Tour lineup.

This week’s “bye” on the schedule following three consecutive playoff events was built in originally to give players a breather before the final postseason stop but has become the victim of the circuit’s move starting next year to finish before Labor Day weekend and just three playoff events.

In theory, the bye week made sense considering the top players rarely played four consecutive weeks, but the pause evolved into a momentum-killer for an organization trying desperately to keep fans engaged during a busy part of the sports calendar.

Everybody loves a week off, but as Phil Mickelson explained, when it comes to golf’s postseason, less really is more.

“Since Day 1, years before it started, I was hopeful it would only be three, because it's easy to go one, two, three, play three events. It's hard to play four,” Mickelson said earlier this month. “So we are taking five weeks to play four as opposed to just three weeks. I think it's a great thing.”

Keeping it simple. The USGA and R&A announced this week that more than 30 changes to the Rules of Golf will be implemented on Jan. 1.

Among the changes are new procedures for dropping the ball when taking relief, the elimination or reduction of several penalties, relaxed putting green and bunker rules, and rules that encourage improved pace of play.

Although Cut Line will stop short of claiming that golf’s rulebook is now simple, it’s certainly been simplified and that’s a start.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Short-sighted. For the first time in Jordan Spieth’s professional career he did not qualify for next week’s Tour Championship. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the 11-time PGA Tour winner also finds himself in violation of the circuit’s strength-of-field requirement.

Under the rule that began last season players are required to add an event they hadn’t played in the last four seasons if they didn’t play in at least 25 events in the previous or current season. Spieth will finish with 23 starts (24 counting the Ryder Cup) and did not add a new event to his schedule.

“I obviously accept whatever fine it is and move on and try and add one every year, but it's kind of tough,” said Spieth, who is now subject to a “major penalty” in excess of $20,000 or even suspension, although that seems highly unlikely.

Here’s the rub. Spieth played 23 events, which is actually more than the average (22.2) for the 30 players who did qualify for East Lake. Nor does the policy apply to veteran (over 45) or life members, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. This is likely the root of Spieth’s frustration and will certainly make next year interesting when Spieth ascends to the Tour’s policy board for his three-year term.

Tweet of the week: @maxhoma23 (Max Homa) “While walking off the 18th tee today [at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship], nearing the end of a pretty difficult/breezy day, my caddy said that if golf were easy it wouldn’t be fun. It was a deep and philosophical comment. I wanted to punch him.”

The next week Homa finished tied for sixth at the DAP Championship to secure his Tour card. Good for Homa, even better for the Tour’s social media profile.

Missed Cut

Going the distance. The distance debate has predictably heated up as the Tour inches toward a new season and proponents of potential equipment rollbacks have started crunching the numbers.

Some have pointed out that Rory McIlroy is on the verge of becoming the first player to average over 320 yards off the tee and that the Tour average (296 yards) has increased by about 4 yards this season.

There is no question golf needs to address the distance gains, at least at the highest level, but perspective and facts need to be a part of this debate. First, McIlroy won’t become the first player to average over 320 yards off the tee. Hank Kuehne did it in 2003 (321.4-yard average) and the conversation needs to go well beyond equipment’s role in the increases.

“Every professional sport, it doesn't matter, guys continue to get better, that's just the way it goes. And I don't see why everyone has such an issue with that,” Chris Kirk said earlier this month at TPC Boston.

The athletes who play the Tour are now bigger and stronger and their training has intensified to maximize how far they hit the golf ball. Unless golf’s rule makers intend to outlaw gyms and trainers, this has the potential to become an arms race that can’t be won.

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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.