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Tour schedule: Big changes will lead to tough choices

By Rex HoggardJuly 10, 2018, 12:57 pm

This began as a typical brainstorming session, an opportunity to take a hard look from 30,000 feet at a sprawling business.

“It wasn’t a schedule conversation, it was a product conversation,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan recently explained. “The question was, are we producing the best possible product for our fans? One of the things that we realized is, 11 years in, the FedExCup Playoffs continue to grow. We felt like ending Week 1, Week 2 of the NFL [season], that was a big issue and we needed to solve it.”

That conversation began in early 2016 and the answers to those tough questions were officially given on Tuesday when the Tour unveiled the dramatically overhauled 2018-19 schedule.

From thousands of iterations, competing interests, and moving parts was born a lineup that now features five consecutive months of marquee events starting with The Players in March, the Masters in April (come on, you knew the spring member-member wasn’t going anywhere), PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and Open Championship in July. This major Murderers’ Row will give golf clear ownership of a portion of the sports calendar.



The new schedule will also feature an earlier finish to the season, with the Tour Championship scheduled to be played Aug. 21-25, two weeks before the start of the NFL season, which has always cast a wide shadow over what was supposed to be the Tour’s big finish.

Although it took more than two years to get here, there’s no denying the need and success of what is essentially a condensed schedule. The new dance card will certainly make the Tour better and it will also make golf better, but like most extreme makeovers there has been and will continue to be a cost.

After a dozen years of hearing how much better The Players is in May, transitioning back to March will be awkward at best; and the PGA Championship’s relocation to May could take some of the event’s more storied Northeastern venues out of the rotation.

But if The Players and PGA moves are the highlights of the new schedule, the devil really is in the details.

Gone from the 2019 schedule will be The National, Tiger Woods’ event in Washington, D.C., which began with so much promise in 2007, and the Dell Technologies Championship, which had been the second playoff stop.

Although TPC Boston, site of the Dell Technologies event, will host the first playoff event, The Northern Trust, every other year starting in 2020, it’s still a hit for one of the Tour’s largest markets.

Though many observers liked the idea of a condensed schedule, in practice it’s going to take some getting used to.

Essentially, the Tour had to shed four weeks off the season to move out of football’s shadow. Losing the Boston playoff event and the post-season “bye” week was half the bill. The Houston Open was relocated to the fall portion of the schedule, and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was replaced by an existing event in Memphis.

If that all sounds clean and easy, consider that the run up to the post-season will now feature a major (The Open), a World Golf Championship (Memphis) and the Wyndham Championship. Including the three playoff stops, that’s five must-play events in a six-week window.

There’s also a question of how the 2020 Olympics, which will be played in Tokyo from July 24 to Aug. 9, will fit into what currently is an already hectic portion of the schedule.

Similarly, the spring line up heading into the Masters will now feature two World Golf Championships and The Players. The game’s stars will likely continue to play either the Honda Classic or Arnold Palmer Invitational, which means five starts in eight weeks.

How this congestion impacts events like Bay Hill or the AT&T Byron Nelson, which will now be played the week before the PGA Championship, remains to be seen, but there will be tough choices made.

Consider the RBC Canadian Open, which has been mired in a post-Open Championship vortex, will now be played the week before the U.S. Open. Depending on where the American championship is played, the move could give the field in Canada a boost, but it’s hard to imagine how it’s going to lead to long-term improvements.

Give Monahan and his team credit, from a thousand different variations and moving parts has come a schedule most of the circuit’s constituents, and eventually the fans, can embrace.

“Let’s look at the overall schedule and the flow and a thousand different versions on how to make it work, along with looking at the overall landscape of sporting events,” said Monahan when he was recently asked to explain the schedule process. “You think about what other leagues might do and you look at their schedule, you’re trying to balance what you know now with what you think others might think about.”

Throughout this complicated process, the commissioner and Co. never lost focus on the ultimate goal, ending before football season began, and although it wasn’t painless it did turn out to be change with a purpose.

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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.


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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.