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Monday Scramble: Take a bow ... and a knee?

By Nick MentaSeptember 25, 2017, 3:40 pm

Justin Thomas takes the FedExCup, Xander Shauffele takes the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods takes to blogging, and Peter Malnati takes a knee in this edition of Monday Scramble.


Well, that made the Player and Rookie of the Year votes quite easy.

As a chaotic Sunday afternoon finally turned into Schauffele vs. Thomas, and it became clear that Justin had already etched his name on the FedExCup, it was hard not to root for Xander to pick up the biggest win of his career.

Sunday marked the first time since 2009 that the winner of the Tour Championship did not also walk away with the FedExCup. And as judged by Thomas and Schauffele's post-round interaction, the result was plenty fine with both of them.

Thomas put his stamp on this season by wrapping up the Jack Nicklaus Award and collecting nearly $11 million, while Schauffele capped off a whirlwind four months with a $3.5 million payday and future Rookie of the Year honors. Talk about sharing the wealth.


1. Thus ends the Season of Justin Thomas. In summation, that was five wins, his first major, a playoff victory, a round of 59, a U.S. Open round of 63, the FedExCup, and nearly $20 million in on-course earnings. In one year, he's vaulted himself from 72nd to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking. There are three men – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Hideki Matsuyama – still ahead of Thomas on that list, but right now, no one's stock is higher than his own.

Of course, now comes the hard part - maintaining his current level of success. 

At different points in the last four years, DJ, Jordan, Hideki, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have all appeared as if they would never lose another tournament for the rest of their lives before revealing themselves as human again. Thomas will enter next season much as Spieth entered 2016, coming off a year he might never surpass for the rest of his career. His biggest challenge moving forward won't be any golf course or any opponent; it'll be managing his own expectations.

2. This was less a breakout season than it was a breakout four months for Schauffele, who described himself during his victory speech on Sunday as having "weaseled his way around" all year. The 23-year-old rookie was 135th in the FedExCup standings before announcing his apparent arrival with a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open. He followed that performance with his first PGA Tour win three weeks later at The Greenbrier. His rise has been so meteoric that Johnny Miller sounded as though he was channeling David Byrne at various points during the final round: And you may ask yourself, who is Xander Schauffele?

Well, he's now the first rookie in history to win the Tour Championship, the first rookie in the FedExCup era to win a playoff event, and the highest-finishing rookie in history of the season-long points race. 

3. I can't get over this putt.

No one is going to remember that come tomorrow (later this afternoon?), but Schauffele was dangerously close to missing that shortie and going to a playoff. That lip-in could have been a lip-out, it could have cost him the tournament, and it could have haunted him for a long time. Instead, he got $3.5 million and we got a new GIF:

Again, everyone wins.

4. Schauffele's victory Sunday was an impressive mix of driving and putting prowess. He finished the week first in strokes gained-off the tee (+1.15) and first in putting inside 10 feet, making 67 of 69 attempts, including that horseshoe lip-in above. Add Schauffele, at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, to the list of smaller guys – like McIlroy and Thomas – who somehow keep up with the likes of DJ and Brooks Koepka off the tee.



5. When is Paul Casey going to close on Sunday? His decision three years ago to abandon the European Tour and focus full-time on the PGA Tour was a wise one that led to a career resurgence. Once ranked a high as third in the world, Casey dropped as low as 169th in 2013. But a U.S.-focused schedule has kept Casey a top-25 player in the world for the bulk of the last three seasons. Over that time, he's racked up the most top-five finishes of any player on Tour who hasn't won, with 16. He has proven himself a borderline elite talent for 63 holes a week. 

6. Spieth put together a Sunday rally that at one point had him projected to win his second FedExCup. Instead, he settled for his second Vardon Trophy for low scoring average. Per Golf Channel Research, Spieth joins Tiger Woods as the players to win the Vardon multiple times before the age of 25. 

7. And credit to Spieth, by the way, for sowing even a tiny bit of doubt into what should have been an obvious POY race. He exits 2017 with three victories and the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Had he found a way to win at East Lake and take the FedExCup, he may have made his friend/rival Thomas sweat through the voting process. But even he'll admit things turned out as they should have.

"This was probably my worst putting week of the year, unfortunately," he said Sunday. "But what a great season it was. I'm very pleased with the way 2017 has gone. ... JT is very well-deserved winning the FedExCup this year. It is rightfully so given his season. I almost squeaked through when he really deserved it."

In addition to Player of the Year and the FedExCup, it sounds like what JT really won himself is one hell of a bar bill.

8. Are the game’s top talents coached to say, “It’s not about the money,” or are they actually ambivalent about $10 million?

On the one hand, honesty from professional athletes is refreshing and respectable, even if it’s unrelatable. McIlroy made headlines last year when he was asked about the FedExCup’s $10 million bonus and answered that, “Luckily, that amount of money doesn't sort of mean much to me anymore.” DJ echoed those comments this past week when he said the bonus wouldn’t change his life. Thomas, who took the jackpot prize, insisted before the event started that winning trophies matters more to him than winning money. At least Spieth acknowledged the rush of competing for that kind of cash, comparing wait-and-see scenarios on Sunday to a multi-million dollar bet.

I know the PGA Tour prefers these guys to talk about the prestige of winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup, but I’d really like one guy with a massive grin on his face to explode with, “$&@^ yeah, I want the money! I know exactly what I’m going to buy that I absolutely do not need, and it’s going to be great!”

Maybe the FedExCup really has achieved a kind of quan. I guess the only way to find out how the game’s wealthiest really feel would be to take the $10 million off the table. Something tells me that’s unlikely.



9. Speaking of refreshing honesty, Tiger Woods! (Did I just type that?)

Woods’ blog update this week was an unexpected and much-appreciated window into the thoughts of a guy sitting at home and experiencing life not unlike the rest of us – save for the frequent text exchanges with Rafa Nadal. The medical update he offered was straightforward and understandable and a welcome contrast to the usually annoying cycle of sourced reports that are then immediately disputed in a dizzying web of misinformation. There was the odd line that made you roll your eyes, but if the golf world got solar-eclipse Tiger and Raider-fan Tiger and mentor Tiger a little more often, everyone – including Woods himself – would be better off. Fewer state secrets and more nicknames, please. (Inky!)

10. And speaking of people speaking their minds, good job, Peter Malnati. Malnati on Sunday became the first professional golfer to openly support professional athletes who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. 

"Those who kneel during the national anthem aren't disrespecting the heroes who sacrificed to defend the United States," he wrote. "Those who kneel are pointing out that as a nation, we are not doing a good job of upholding the values for which people sacrificed."

As you can see, it's a lengthy missive, one that directly criticizes "the current administration." He explained the impetus for his statement last night in an interview with Golf Central:

Maybe Malnati's statement will lead other pros to speak their mind on issues of injustice or inequality. Then again, Tour types tend to skew to one side of the spectrum, and most of these guys and girls, regardless of their ideology, prefer to punt when asked anything remotely political. However they feel about kneeling, I'm sure many of them are grateful the anthem isn't part of their pre-round routine. That way, they don't have to take a stand – or a knee.

11. It looks like U.S. captain Steve Stricker will be employing the much-ballyhooed pods system this week for the Presidents Cup at Liberty National. Of note, Spieth and Thomas are in separate cohorts, which doesn't necessarily preclude them from teaming this week, but such a pairing would flout standard pod protocol. Spieth will likely spend the bulk of his time playing Bucky to Captain America Patrick Reed, while Thomas pairs with his Tiger's-backyard-chipping-buddy Rickie Fowler. This is all just an excuse to remind you that pods are neither normal nor human.

12. As for the event itself, the International team record stands at 1-9-1 at in 11 tries, with their only win coming at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The 2015 installment in South Korea very nearly resulted in the competition's second halve. This desperately event needs a series of International victories, a Tom Watson captaincy, and a U.S. task force. This will be 37-year-old Adam Scott's eighth Presidents Cup appearance. He has never been a member of the winning side.

13. And, finally, the Web.com Tour Finals come to an end this week. Six-time PGA Tour winner and former East Lake-staple Hunter Mahan will start his week outside The Finals 25 at 33rd in earnings through three events. He'll need a big week to retain his full-time status on the big Tour. Of note, Sam Saunders will start the week 24th, while Zac Blair enters 26th. Other notable names currently outside the top 25 include Curtis Luck, Daniel Summerhays, Shawn Stefani, Cameron Tringale, Spencer Levin, Roberto Castro, Jon Curran, Jonathan Byrd, Ricky Barnes and Colt Knost. 

While the USGA and R&A are rewriting the Rules of Golf, let's go ahead and address what happened to Matthew Southgate on Sunday. The Englishman got hit with a four-shot penalty at the Web.com Finals' DAP Championship when a blowing leaf knocked his putt off-line.

Rule 19-1 calls for the stroke to be cancelled and replayed from the ball's original position, but Southgate tapped in instead. He was later docked two shots for playing from the wrong position and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The Rules of Golf are far too complicated and contradictory. What does and doesn't fall under the purview of the "rub of the green" is confounding. There's nothing you can do about a spike mark, but flying leaves are an aggression that cannot stand, man?

Regardless of the rule itself, there is no reason Soutgate needed to be penalized twice, much like Lexi Thompson at the ANA earlier this year. What was his crime? That a rules official didn't tell him what happened before he signed his card? One infraction should mean one penalty. There shouldn't have been a second infraction or penalty.

This week's award winners ...

The very pants he was about to return: To Jason Dufner, who shot 67 on Friday and encountered a wardrobe malfunction while bending down to pick up his ball late in his round.

But he wasn't done: Two days later, after a final-round 72, a tie for 20th at East Lake, and the 30th-place finish in the FedExCup standings, Dufner ended his 2016-17 by giving away his shoes and apparently his 7-iron to young fans.

I wonder who got the pants.

How very SEC of you: Kevin Kisner needed the help of Thomas, East Lake Golf Club and neighboring Charlie Yates Golf Club, but he was able to secure himself a helicopter ride to the Georgia-Mississippi State game in nearby Athens on Saturday.

Dawgs won 31-3.

How very Nantz of you: To (who else?) Jim Nantz, who was married on the seventh green at Pebble Beach and who we now know has a miniature replica of the iconic par-3 in the backyard of his Pebble Beach home.

Of course, every time we think we’ve hit peak-Nantz, he ups the ante. It’s either the blessing we all assume or some strange, strange curse where he’s not actually in The Good Place.

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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.