Cut Line: Busy news week in the golf world

By Rex HoggardFebruary 1, 2013, 5:43 pm

Anyone who thinks the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale is lively during the Waste Management Phoenix Open didn’t get a look at the Cut Line newsroom this week. From deer-antler spray to putts for 59 to a much-anticipated return to Winged Foot for the national championship, the last week of January may be remembered as the news cycle that wouldn’t rest.

Made Cut

Lefty. Nothing changes the conversation quicker than a historic round. That it was Phil Mickelson, a week removed from a media mea culpa over taxes, dictating the topic only added to the drama.

Lefty’s flirtation with golf’s magic number (59) on Day 1 in Scottsdale wrested golf away from a dialogue that has drifted from anchoring and bifurcation to deer-antler spray, not to mention California’s tax code and the role of athletes in politics, however temporarily.

And all this from a player who if not for a series of delays and hurried finishes last week at Torrey Pines would have missed the 54-hole cut at the Farmers Insurance Open (Mickelson was tied for 77th through three rounds in San Diego).

Golf is at its best when Phil is playing his best, a truth that was never more evident than it was on Thursday at TPC Scottsdale.

Fun. The word is not exactly associated with many modern golf courses which are widely stretched to obscene lengths to accommodate the 1 percent who play for pay with all manner of forced carries and white-knuckle tee shots.

While the focus during last week’s PGA Merchandise Show was on the possible ban on anchoring, many in the game will point to modern golf courses that are something less than user friendly as a primary impediment to growing the game.

It was a hot topic last Saturday during the grand opening of Streamsong Resort’s two new golf courses designed by Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore and Tom Doak.

“Televised golf and golf for professionals, so much is placed on difficulty and how to make things difficult,” Crenshaw told Cut Line. “But you try to offer something else for the golfing public and it’s a very difficult decision to put things together. You have to combine that with the reasons why you do courses. I tend to think occasionally we have forgotten about fun.”

That may explain why Crenshaw and Coore’s Red Course at the new Florida resort was appointed instant classics status from many observers.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

To 2020 and beyond. News this week that the U.S. Golf Association will return to venerable Winged Foot for the 2020 U.S. Open was widely applauded – even Mickelson hailed the news; although he may want to suggest fewer corporate tents down the left side of the 18th fairway for the ’20 championship.

The announcement, however, drew renewed attention to the USGA’s continued aversion for a return to Torrey Pines, site of the historic 2008 Open and an inspired venue for a much-needed SoCal championship.

“The USGA is trying to make a concerted effort, ever since ’02 going to Bethpage for the first time, (to go to) big public venues. (Torrey Pines) is the West Coast version, and it was amazing,” said Tiger Woods, who won his eighth professional title at Torrey Pines on Monday. “Torrey Pines and everyone here involved in it really made this tournament special, and I think the USGA will definitely come back.”

But the USGA doesn’t seem to share Woods’ enthusiasm for Torrey or the West Coast, or perhaps the blue coats just have a serious distaste for red-eye flights. There are currently just two West Coast stops for the Open through 2020 (2015 at Chambers Bay in Washington and 2019 at Pebble Beach).

Feeling the heat. Give USGA Championship Committee chair Tom O’Toole credit for stepping into the line of fire this week even if you don’t like the message.

O’Toole, on site at Winged Foot for Monday’s announcement the U.S. Open was returning to the layout in 2020, was asked about comments made by TaylorMade CEO Mark King regarding the ongoing anchoring debate and the growing support for the bifurcation of the Rules of Golf.

“The USGA within 10 years will be a non-entity; they will be a non-factor within golf because they are choosing to be on the outside, and no one is signing up for what they represent,” King said.

O’Toole deftly sidestepped the issue saying, “Our position has been that the game would not be benefited by bifurcation, and that's still our position.”

Missed Cut

Vijay Singh. In a statement on Wednesday, the Fijian said he was unaware the deer-antler spray he purchased from an Alabama-based company contained a substance banned by the Tour’s anti-doping policy and that he was “angry” for putting himself in this position.

While that statement may mitigate whatever punishment the Tour doles out – according to policy he can receive up to a one-year suspension and $500,000 fine for an initial violation – it does nothing to change his culpability.

On this the Tour’s policy, drawn almost directly from the World Anti-Doping Agencies’ regulations, is clear. Ignorance is no defense in the dogmatic world of anti-doping.

The only question that remains is how long his suspension should be and on this Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., should proceed carefully. Doug Barron is the only player suspended (one year) under the circuit’s anti-doping rules for testing positive for testosterone and beta blockers, which were both prescribed by his doctors for health reasons, in 2009.

It’s worth noting that Barron played the Tour last year on a therapeutic-use exemption that allowed him to use some of the same substances that got him suspended.

While Singh – who told a Sports Illustrated reporter that he had been using the deer-antler spray “every couple of hours . . . every day,” and was “looking forward to some change in my body” – has, by his own admission, conceded he sought a performance enhancement.

The Tour entered the world of anti-doping in 2008 to prove the sport was clean. As inflexible as those rules may seem now, there is no going back.

Tweet of the week: @JoshBroadaway “That (deer) antler spray didn’t do much for me when I took it. It just made me wanna start rubbin trees when I was in the woods huntin for my ball.”

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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.