Getty Images

Cut Line: A Pat on the (come)back

By Rex HoggardOctober 13, 2017, 1:36 pm

The PGA Tour’s Asian swing kicks off this week with a pair of inspiring tales; while the circuit seems to be slow-playing, or worse, ignoring, some of last season’s most inspirational stories.

Made Cut

Being Pat. A year ago Pat Perez finished tied for 33rd at the CIMB Classic, a relatively non-descript finish that the veteran has since credited for his dramatic turnaround last season.

After being sidelined for most of 2016 by a shoulder injury, Perez received a sponsor’s invitation to play the Malaysian stop in ’16 and said the event helped boost his confidence and led to his victory a few weeks later in Mexico.

Asked last month at the Tour Championship why he plays the CIMB Classic, Perez’s answer was distinctly Pat:

“I'll give you two reasons: Free money and free points. Three [reasons], free [airline] ticket,” he laughed. “I mean, it's a no-brainer.”

There is no cut at the event, which kicks off the circuit’s three-event Asian swing, and that means players are guaranteed to earn FedExCup points; and Perez is making the most of the opportunity with rounds of 66-65 to take a one-stroke lead at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

“How could I possibly not go?” he said. “I'm not that big-time to act like I'm too good to go.”

Picking up the pieces. Paul Casey left East Lake quietly last month, no smile, no easy laugh. He’d come close, again, and he’d come up short, again.

After starting the final round of the Tour Championship with a two-stroke lead, he limped home with a 73 to finish fifth, the third time in four playoff events he failed convert a Sunday opportunity. He doesn’t need to be reminded that he’s now eight years removed from his lone PGA Tour victory (2009 Shell Houston Open) or that at 40 years old he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

The Englishman could have gone home and spent a few weeks lamenting his play and pouting, but that’s not his style. Instead, he went back to work this week and rebounded from an opening 77 at the CIMB Classic with a second-round 63 to move into a tie for 23rd.

Casey said at East Lake that his second Tour victory was just around the corner. Perhaps, but he ended up on the right side of the cut this week because he refuses to stop trying.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Time for courage. Last week the Tour announced that Justin Thomas had won the circuit’s Player of the Year Award and Xander Schauffele had collected top-rookie honors, a pair of obvious winners that probably didn’t even need a vote.

Missing from those announcements, however, was whether the circuit plans to dole out the Courage Award this season. The Courage Award was created in 2012 for “a player who, through courage and perseverance, has overcome extraordinary adversity (such as personal tragedy or a debilitating injury or illness).”

Although the award hasn’t been given out since 2015, there would seem to be a few worthy candidates this season. Gary Woodland advanced to the Tour Championship following a difficult year that included the loss of one child due to complications during pregnancy and the premature birth of his son (he said at East Lake that his son, Jaxson, is doing much better).

Patrick Cantlay would also seem to qualify as a candidate following years of lingering back issues and the tragic loss of his caddie, who died in a hit-and-run accident earlier this year. Despite all this, Cantlay advanced to East Lake after making just 13 starts last season.

The Courage Award, which is voted on by Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and the four player directors, was always going to be an occasional accomplishment, but if Woodland and Cantlay’s seasons don’t qualify as courageous we’re not sure what does.

Long ball. While we’re leaving the more esoteric debate over how increased driving distances impact the modern game for another day, it’s worth noting that last season’s Tour average was 292.5 yards, a 2 1/2 yard gain over the 2015-16 season.

In fact, it’s a record average, but the more concerning statistic to come out of the season-ending numbers crunch was this: 17 years ago only one player (John Daly) averaged over 300 yards off the tee. That number ballooned to 43 last season.

Although you can dress up statistics however you’d like, continued distance gains will only make the powers that be (USGA and R&A) intensify their efforts to reel in the long ball, and that’s probably not going to be painless for anyone involved.


Missed Cut

Fully booked. Although much has been made of the Tour’s endless schedule and non-existent off-season, the bigger issue is how the wrap-around concept has impacted players graduating from the Web.com Tour.

For the second consecutive year, the secondary circuit’s finale was impacted by weather that led to a Monday finish, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be a huge concern. But for the 50 players vying to secure their status in the Big Leagues it did create a problem with the PGA Tour’s season opener looming just two days and a cross-country flight away.

Included in that list was Chesson Hadley, who won both the regular season and finals money list. After finishing tied for 46th at the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., he opened the new season with rounds of 72-61-70-73 to finish tied for third in Napa, Calif. It’s too much golf in too small of a window, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Web.com Tour schedule is riddled with early holes – with this season’s line up featuring two events in January, two in February and just one in March – that could help space out events and ease the late-season crunch.

There’s no scenario that leads to a real off-season for the PGA Tour, but the Web.com Tour needs a break.

Tweet of the week: @chessonhadley (Chesson Hadley) “My caddie told me this week that this was our 19 [of] 21 weeks in a row competing. I just landed in Raleigh [N.C.] and home feels so good. Off week baby!”

 

 

Getty Images

Web.com Tour releases 2019 schedule, trims Finals

By Will GraySeptember 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

The Web.com Tour has officially released its full schedule for the 2019 season, a slate that will feature a Labor Day finish and only three Finals events as opposed to four.

The developmental circuit will feature 27 tournaments, the same number as this season. Things will kick off in the Bahamas for the third straight year, as two events in the islands begin a stretch of five events in as many weeks across four different countries.

The Feb. 14-17 Suncoast Classic in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., will be the first domestic event of 2019, and one of three new events to the schedule. Also added are the Evans Scholars Invitational in suburban Chicago and the TPC Colorado Championship in Berthoud, Colo.

But with the PGA Tour overhauling its schedule and dropping a FedExCup playoff event to finish ahead of football season, the Web.com schedule also features changes next year. The Web.com Tour Finals, which are used to determine the 50 players who will be promoted to the PGA Tour for the following season, will now feature only three events and follow a similar timeline.

The first Finals event will be the Aug. 15-18 Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, followed by the Albertsons Boise Open. The season will conclude Aug. 30-Sept. 2 with the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., one week after the PGA Tour season ends with the revamped Tour Championship in Atlanta.

The DAP Championship at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, a Finals event for each of the last three years, has been dropped from the 2019 schedule. Gone, too, are the North Mississippi Classic in Oxford and the Rust-Oleum Championship in Ivanhoe, Ill.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 20, 2018, 1:30 pm

Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.


Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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."