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'Journeyman' is not a bad word

By Phil BlackmarDecember 6, 2017, 7:20 pm

It’s really hard to get to the PGA Tour, and even if you’re lucky enough to earn a ticket to the show, the line of players trying to take that ticket away from you and use it for themselves is seemingly endless.

We evaluate careers on money and wins, but how should the career of a player who didn’t win often or at all but was able to play the Tour for a long time be measured? Should a piece of respect be reserved for the player who competes for 10, 15 or 20 years on Tour?

FIRST YOU HAVE TO GET TO THE TOUR

College

The majority of PGA Tour players have at least some collegiate golf experience. When you combine DI and DII men’s golf, you get around 4,500 players in any given year. If one quarter of those graduate annually, there is an influx of over 1,000 young golfers who could seek a life in professional golf. 

While many may not play, consider last year there were 87 All-Americans between DI and DII men’s golf. Good players are coming out every year. 

Professional Tours

The Web.com Tour is the direct feeder system to the PGA Tour. On average 140 players compete full time during the regular season for 25 Tour cards and another 25 are handed out in the finals series. It’s not easy to get onto the Web; in fact, it’s really hard.

Feeding into the Web.com Tour are the Mackenzie Tour (Canada), PGA Tour Latinoamerica and the PGA Tour-China. The “mini-tours” are still kicking as well. Remember the gut wrenching Q-School for the PGA Tour? Well, that experience has moved to the Web, where in excess of 1,000 players each year try to get onto the tour that is the route to the PGA Tour. 

Other prominent tours around world include the European Tour, the Australasian Tour, the Korean Tour and the Japan Golf Tour. While these tours succeed in their own right, many of the best players from these tours either move to the PGA Tour or share time between their home tour and the U.S.

There are literally thousands of players each year aspiring to a life on the PGA Tour.

NOW THAT YOU GOT THERE, CAN YOU STAY THERE?

PGA Tour Makeup

The PGA Tour is made up of about 130 exempt players each year (top 125 and a few other exceptions), plus the conditionally exempt group which includes the 50 card winners from the Web. About 70 players from this group compete in 15 or more events, trying to steal an exempt spot from the 130. A spot won for one player is a spot lost for another. 

Basically you have to stay in the top two-thirds on Tour each and every year.

Games are much more fragile than most would think. All it takes is a minor injury, the wrong focus on mechanics, a change in an equipment deal, a change in workout regimen which unknowingly alters the swing, a diet, trouble at home or even just a few missed putts at the wrong time and an exemption can be lost. Tenure on the Tour is not assured and players are lined up trying to take it away from you. Lose your nerve at the wrong time, don’t take advantage of the good week and all of a sudden you’re gone, fighting your way back. 

It’s hard to get to the Tour, but it’s also hard to stay on the Tour:

Years playing Tour Career starts (assuming 25/year*)
10 250
15 375
20 500

*Exempt players averaging 25 PGA Tour starts per year.

As you can see, it takes a while to amass a lot of starts. 

In all, 324 players have played 250 or more Tour events since 1980. Since it takes so long to accumulate career starts, players who began their career in 2008 or later likely have not made this threshold, yet.

Let’s take a look at some numbers regarding 1980-2008.

How many players were able to get their card during this 28-year period?

The average number of rookies on Tour each year is about 22-23. The remainder of the 70 conditionally exempt players trying to get one of the exempt spots have had their card before. 

In an effort to be conservative, I will use 175 players with a card in 1980 and 22 rookies per year since. This means about 791 or roughly 800 players have had their card since 1980.

That’s 800 out of the thousands and thousands to have tried over that 28 year period to get a PGA tour card. This alone is an accomplishment; they’ve been to the show.

With respect to the 800 card holders, consider the following graph: 1980 to the present, ranked by career starts:

Number of career starts Number of players (N) Percentage (N/800)*
250 324 41%
300 269 34%
400 161 20%
500 86 11%
600 35 4%
700 8 1%
800 1 0.1%

*Represents the percentage of the 800 card-bearing players with this many career starts or more.

# Note: This does not include other major tour starts.                                                                

## Note: Several of the older players competed prior to 1980; these starts are not included

Click here if you want to see the full list of players, Nos. 1-324, who have made 250 career starts during this 1980-2008 period.

I'm proud to be Journeyman No. 123.

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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.