What we learned: Byron Nelson, Sybase

By Bailey MosierMay 20, 2012, 11:10 pm

Each week, the GolfChannel.com team offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the most recent events and news developments. This week we learned that unlike the PGA Tour, the LPGA has no problems with extending penalties for slow play.

I learned that Jason Dufner isn't exactly practicing what he preaches. This past Wednesday, I stood on the driving range at the Byron Nelson Championship as Dufner produced a debate team-worthy rant – yes folks, he really does talk – about how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour. He cited Fred Couples, a probable Hall of Fame inductee, who won less than 2 percent of his starts. He pointed out the depth of talent on the game's most elite level. And then he went out four days later and refuted his own theory, making it look easy in his second victory in his last three events. OK, so maybe he was right; maybe it really is tough to win on the PGA Tour. You just wouldn't know it by watching him lately. – Jason Sobel

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the facts or specifics; I don’t have a list of every slow-play penalty assessed or the official times of all the rounds played on the LPGA or PGA Tour.

But today’s slow-play penalty assessed to Morgan Pressel – that arguably cost her a shot at the Sybase Match Play Championship – tells me that the LPGA isn’t afraid to dole out penalties. The PGA Tour on the other hand … I’m not so sure.

Tiger Woods openly admitted last week that pace of play on the PGA Tour has gotten worse, and that rounds take 5:45 to six-plus hours. Most recently, Kevin Na was under the microscope for pre-shot waggles and was put on the clock at The Players Championship. But he was never assessed a fine – the first strike on the PGA Tour – or any penalty strokes. Pressel was put on the clock at the 12th and assessed a penalty on the very next tee box.

Again, I don’t have all the facts, but with all the recent hubbub about slow play and penalties, one thing became clear Sunday. The LPGA knows the rules and isn’t afraid to enforce them while the PGA Tour prefers to keep its players happy, even if it has to turn a blind eye to do so. – Bailey Mosier

You can argue that officiating – and not the participants – determined the outcome of the Morgan Pressel-Azahara Munoz match. You cannot, however, argue that LPGA officials made the proper decision in penalizing Pressel. The group had been twice warned for slow play, and regardless of who was the original culprit, both players were well aware of their situation. Pressel’s excessive time on the 12th hole was egregious.  The policy had to be enforced. I learned that the LPGA – unlike the PGA Tour – isn’t afraid to play the role of heavy. – Mercer Baggs

I learned it was a smart decision for Jason Dufner to return to work so quickly after getting married. In his second start after tying the knot with Amanda Boyd, Dufner won the HP Byron Nelson Championship with a 26-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole.

When Dufner won for the first time in 164 PGA Tour starts in New Orleans, the Auburn product said the seven-figure check would help pay for his wedding. This latest million-plus check will help him pay to renew their vows. Dufner may want to consider doing that pretty soon, and quite often.

Dufner used his cool demeanor to take out Ernie Els in New Orleans. Perhaps like defeating the Highlander, Dufner can gain some measure of Els' immortality in the sport. How about a nickname? There's room for the Lil Easy on the PGA Tour, right? – Ryan Ballengee

I learned that Jason Dufner could win his first and second PGA Tour titles in a month and it wouldn’t even be the best thing that happened to him. That, of course, was his wedding the week after claiming his initial title in New Orleans. Or that he would become just the second two-time Tour winner this season with his walk-off birdie on Sunday at the Byron Nelson. – Rex Hoggard

I learned that you should never, ever turn a golf tournament off until the final putt drops. Jason Dufner winning with that bomb on 18 instantly transformed the Byron Nelson from snoozer to stunner. Nationwide Tour player Nick Flanagan’s 72nd-hole approach that he banked off a cameraman and onto the green, setting up a birdie putt that forced a playoff that he ultimately won, well, you don’t see that every day. And something you shouldn’t see every day, or ever, is a third-place match in a match-play tournament. Was there any interest in the Morgan Pressel-Vicky Hurst consolation match in the Sybase Match Play Championship? Just pay each semifinal loser the same amount and concentrate all interest in the final. – Al Tays

John Hancock Pivotal Moments

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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.