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To look or not to look? That is the question

By Rex HoggardApril 10, 2018, 6:25 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Jordan Spieth tapped in for bogey and turned toward that iconic leaderboard adjacent to the 18th green at Augusta National.

It was the first time all day he’d allowed himself a peak. He hadn’t checked after making birdie on his first two holes, after he made the turn at 5 under par, not even after his 33-footer for birdie at the 16th hole dropped to temporarily give him a share of the Masters lead with Patrick Reed.

“When I finished and I looked at the board, I could have been in the lead by two, and I could have been down four,” Spieth said on Sunday at Augusta National “Neither one would have surprised me.”

Many have balked at Spieth’s claim, figuring it would be impossible for him not to have known his position considering Sunday’s atmosphere and his proximity to final pairing, four holes behind him.

“Honest to God. Didn't look once today,” Spieth stressed.

Spieth’s approach to the final round, which he began nine strokes off the lead, is in juxtaposition to how Reed played his final 18 holes.

“I always, always watch leaderboards, no matter what event it is, whether it's the first hole on Thursday or the last hole on Sunday,” Reed said. “For some reason, I always want to know where I stand.”

Reed knew when Spieth tied him for the lead with his birdie at No. 16. And he was well aware of what Rickie Fowler, who would finish runner-up and a stroke back, was doing in the group ahead.

“To hear that roar on the last [which Fowler birdied], I just knew it had to be Rickie, because, you know, to win your first major is never going to be easy,” Reed said “It's just a way of God basically saying, let's see if you have it.”

The contrast in styles might have something to do with each players’ personality. Reed, who is renowned as one of the game’s top match-play opponents, seems to savor every uncomfortable minute. Spieth, at least on Sunday, wanted to box himself into a competitive cocoon and see where the day took him.

On Tuesday at the RBC Heritage, the should-you-or-shouldn’t-you-look conversation was a frequent topic.

“You don’t coach the fourth quarter of a football game without knowing what the score is,” Lucas Glover reasoned. “I don’t think I could do it with that round going. Kudos to [Spieth], and I don’t know if you can play any of those holes differently. If bunkers were ponds on 18 [at Augusta National], it might be different. It’s hard to criticize a 64 on Sunday at Augusta. I personally couldn’t do it.”

Robert Garrigus is the guy to ask when it comes to leaderboard watching. At the 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic, Garrigus famously stepped to the 72nd tee with a three-stroke lead and pulled his drive wildly left and into a hazard. He would make a triple bogey-7 on the hole and lose a playoff to Lee Westwood.

“There was a situation where I didn’t look at a leaderboard and I lost because I didn’t look at it, so now I do,” Garrigus laughed. “Some guys are against it, some are constantly looking. I think I have a feel for the situation where I know where I’m kind of at.

But there are just as many examples of a player who denied himself the chance to feel distracted and had it it work out, like Davis Love III at the 2015 Wyndham Championship.

After staring the day four strokes off the lead, Love played his first seven holes in 4 under par and moved into the lead with an eagle at the par-5 15th hole.

“When I walked off the last hole, [tournament official] Bobby Long came up and said, ‘Congratulations,'” Love recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I think I had to make that putt [for birdie at the 18th].’ He was like, ‘What are you talking about? You had a two-shot lead.’”

It was exactly what Dr. Bob Rotella had been trying to teach Love for years, to ignore the distractions and the pressure that accompanies outcome-driven thoughts.

“I made an effort after my hot start to say I’m not going to look at the leaderboard. I’m not going to think about the Masters. I’m not going to think about winning a golf tournament. I’m going to do my routine until I run out of holes,” Love said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

There are countless examples of players, like Reed, who rely on what’s going on around them to dictate their actions, particularly late on Sunday.

At the 2016 Travelers Championship, Russell Knox stepped to the 16th tee and immediately sought out the closest leaderboard to determine how he would play the final three holes.

“I was two ahead with three to go, and I knew there was no one who could catch me. It made it more stressful, but it was nice to know that’s what I needed to do,” said Knox, who won a stroke. “The position [Spieth] was in, maybe he just said, 'OK, I’m not going to look and just go after it.' I would have been looking after I made the putt on 16.”

Players are split on whether they should or should not look at a leaderboard, but there was consensus on one front – whatever works for you is the right answer.

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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.