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Despite tensions, LPGA has strong field in Korea

By Randall MellOctober 10, 2017, 2:29 pm

The growing tension and saber rattling between North Korea and the United States isn’t deterring the LPGA’s best this week.

A strong field is poised to tee it up in Thursday’s start to the KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon, South Korea.

Fifteen of the top 16 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to compete, with only Inbee Park missing, due to injury. While it’s a limited field with 78 players, the tournament ranks as one of the strongest of the year at the top of the world rankings.

As for tensions along the border, LPGA officials addressed player security concerns heading into the event.

“As a matter of course, we share safety and security information with our players and caddies for many of the tournaments on our schedule,” Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA's chief communications and tour operations officer, said in response to a GolfChannel.com inquiry.

“Regarding Korea, specifically, we have had regular contact with our security teams in the U.S. and Korea, with the U.S. Department of State, as well as the PGA Tour, regarding their event in Korea this fall.

“Based on information and counsel received from all parties, we are comfortable with the event in Incheon, and with all safety precautions that are in place as they relate to our players, caddies, staff and partners.”

Notably, Oct. 10 is the founding anniversary of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, a day North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has marked in the past with missile or nuclear tests. CNBC reported that North Korea is “widely expected” to conduct another missile test sometime over the next 10 days.

“They are preparing for new tests of a long-range missile,” Russian lawmaker Anton Morozov told Russia’s RIA news agency in a quote cited by CNBC on Monday.

Reuters reported Monday that Mozorov said the North Koreans “gave us mathematical calculations that they believe prove that their missile can hit the West Coast of the United States.”

The LPGA’s strong turnout is a testament to the tour’s communication with players.

“We consistently tell our players that their personal comfort level should be the driving force in a decision to play a particular event,” Daly-Donofrio said. “Should any player choose not to compete in an event, due to the political climate of a particular region, we would fully support that decision.”

This week’s event will feature the top three players in the world rankings, with No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 Lexi Thompson grouped together in the first round.

South Koreans have dominated this season, and there’s pride in that success, with the nation embracing its LPGA event. South Koreans have won nearly half the events played this year (13 of 27) and three of the five majors. This week’s field includes 12 Korean LPGA Tour players. Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and Thompson are in a heightened battle for Rolex Player of the Year, money-winning list, Vare Trophy and Race to the CME Globe honors with just six events left in the season.

“I’m sure that a lot of players, we say that we’re not going to focus on these titles, but I would really like to win the Player the Year,” Ryu said. “Not because I need that recognition to really feel how well I did this year, but, rather, I think it would be kind of like a medal for myself, to really just pat myself on the back on a really great year done. But I have to say, for the past 10 years as a pro golfer, the biggest lesson I learned is I do far better when I don’t look too far, and when I focus on what’s ahead of me right now.”

Ryu leads the Rolex Player of the Year standings by a mere three points over Lexi Thompson. The winner of this week’s event earns 30 points.

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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.