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The other side of Annika at the Solheim Cup

By Randall MellAugust 22, 2017, 4:30 pm

The losing captains in these international team events get torn to shreds.

They get blamed for everything from pairings to picks to international financial markets taking dives.

That’s practically the rule in Ryder Cups and Solheim Cups, but Annika Sorenstam distinguished herself last week as an exception to the rule.

Yes, Europe got routed, 16½ to 11½, but this was an odd Solheim Cup, where the final score didn’t really reflect the entertainment value these teams offered.

Somehow, some way, there was great theater in so many matches within this lopsided matchup, from Danielle Kang’s flamboyant debut making putts from all over the place, to Cristie Kerr’s record-setting performances, to Anna Nordqvist mustering triumphant efforts playing through mononucleosis.

And we even got another memorable comeback Sunday, but it was Lexi Thompson delivering it after losing the first four holes to Nordqvist before regrouping to halve the match. It was a terrific duel that made Sunday’s finish worth watching by itself.



When I remember Sorenstam’s captaincy, I won’t remember the final score as much as I’ll remember seeing Annika open herself up to us like we’ve never seen before.

This is one of the all-time greats, a Hall of Famer who won more LPGA titles (72) than anyone except Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82), but Sorenstam distinguished herself in this losing effort. She showed her team how to lose with grace and dignity and how to put up a fight even when you are overmatched.

I’ll remember Sorenstam for her inspiring appearance Saturday in the media center, where this captain, who was so measured her entire playing career, let her guard down and invited us into her head and heart. She was as good as you could possibly ask a captain to be answering questions with her team getting trounced worse going into singles than any European team in the history of the Solheim Cup. Chin up, jaw resolutely set, she let us hear how a champion thinks when her back’s to a wall. She struck such a genuine tone. There was a bonus, too, there was her unexpected good humor that night, which sent a couple jolts of laughter through the interview room.

I wrote early in the week that Sorenstam won with cold precision as a player, that she was a bit of a loner in her prime who seemed to use the distance she created with other players to cultivate the aura of intimidation that added to her advantage.

That’s the way it was, but it was unfair in failing to reveal how she has evolved away from the game and how she would be as a captain.

I’ll remember Sorenstam in Des Moines, Iowa, locked arm in arm with her European players, walking up the fairway in solidarity at the end of their defeat, a team that didn’t point fingers or grumble but gave us some good theater in stirring scenes within the rout. Sorenstam built that unified front, something that is harder to do in defeat than victory.



Yes, there was tension between Sorenstam and U.S. captain Juli Inkster coming into these matches, something that happens when two giants of the game have butted heads with valued championships and trophies at stake, but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t mutual respect. There was.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Louise Solheim had to be smiling down when Sorenstam donned a Viking helmet with horns and blonde braids and danced with Inkster on the first tee during Sunday singles.

Inkster and Sorenstam were models of competitive decorum.

I’ll remember so many things beyond the final score in Sorenstam’s captaincy. Yes, you can second guess her captain’s picks, taking rookies over proven veterans like Azahara Munoz and Sandra Gal, but Sorenstam was dealt a tough hand with Suzann Pettersen withdrawing because of a bad back, with Charley Hull missing all of Saturday with a wrist injury, with Nordqvist understandably having to rest at least one session with mono and with Carlota Ciganda losing form at the worst possible time, but Sorenstam never grumbled about it. She showed her team how you meet adversity.

“It was pretty inspiring,” Hull said. “And it was quite cool. You kind of get into the mind of the greatest female golfer that's lived. And that's pretty special.”

Hull couldn’t have said it much better. It’s a shame Sorenstam was so resolute in saying she wouldn’t be pursuing a return as captain next time around, because that might be Europe’s worst loss from this. Europe ought to be clamoring as hard for Sorenstam’s return as captain as the United States is for Inkster’s return. We would all win with that.

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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.