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At the Sony, trouble in paradise

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2018, 5:20 am

HONOLULU – The sun peeked over Diamond Head just after 7 a.m. on Saturday, ushering in a textbook morning in paradise.

A light “trade” breeze swayed palm trees, families made their way to the beach and tourists milled around Waikiki in search of somewhere to eat breakfast. It was the kind of morning that draws people from all over the world to Hawaii.

The first signs that something wasn’t right came just after 8 a.m. Matt Every sat at a street-side café in Waikiki when pedestrians began running by in search of shelter.

“There’s a missile coming,” someone yelled.

The message was sent at 8:07 a.m., via text from the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency: “BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Charles Howell III was at breakfast at The Kahala Hotel adjacent to Waialae Country Club when his phone began to warble.

“I texted a friend of mine who is in the Navy [at Pearl Harbor] and they were scrambling as well,” Howell said. “Part of me wanted to go to the beach and have a mai tai, part of me didn’t know what to do.”

The Kahala, which is a popular place for players to stay for this week’s Sony Open, announced the alert across the property and advised guests to go to the basement. Ben Martin was hesitant at first until he began to scroll through his Twitter feed and realized the threat could be real.

“I went to the basement. There were a lot of players down there,” Martin said. “Everybody was freaking out.”

Chez Reavie is staying in a hotel in Waikiki, where the alarm caused widespread concern among the throngs of tourists.


Full-field scores from the Sony Open in Hawaii

Sony Open in Hawaii: Articles, photos and videos


“I was like holy s---,” Reavie said. “I looked outside and saw everybody running. I just stayed in my room.”

It was a common theme on the most surreal of Saturdays as confusion and concern reigned. There’s no chapter in the PGA Tour player manual about inbound missile threats.

Jordan Spieth called his parents back home in Texas to ask for updates and actually received the all clear from his brother when his cell service went down.

At 8:45 a.m., 38 minutes after the original warning was issued a correction was finally sent out advising that there was no missile.

The alert never impacted play at Waialae with the first tee times scheduled for 11:05 a.m., but many in the field were shaken by the experience as they prepared for the third round.

Tony Finau was in his hotel with his wife and kids when he received the alert and admitted it was a difficult position, torn between wanting to be with his family during a time of crisis and having them in harm’s way.

“It was a blessed day,” said Finau, whose round was highlighted by a hole-in-one at No. 17. “It puts things in perspective with what could happen. Golf was the last thing on people’s minds.”

No one, however, endured the emotional rollercoaster as much as Blayne Barber. He’d gone to dinner on Friday with his caddie, Cory Gilmer, and brother, Shayne, and had just returned to his room when he received a call that Gilmer had fallen and hit his head.

“He's in the neurological ICU, a lot of bleeding and swelling in his brain,” Barber said. “I slept about three hours. That was about the hardest day of golf I've ever played, between that and the texts this morning.”

Barber received the text alert as he was walking into the hospital to see Gilmer. He played Round 3, because that’s what Gilmer would have wanted, and he struggled, posting a 2-over 72. But none of that really mattered.

“I've been gone from my kids and my wife for 10 days, and between that happening to Cory and then just the emotions of facing your own mortality in that moment, it's just been a heavy day for sure,” said Barber as he fought back tears. “It's been a good day. It's good to face those things sometimes.”

And there was golf on Saturday. Some impressive golf, actually.

Tom Hoge went around Waialae in 64 shots to unseat Brian Harman, the most consistent player on the Tour this season with four top-10 finishes in four starts, atop the leaderboard; as did Patton Kizzire, who is tied with Harman at 15 under and a stroke off the lead.

Harman will go into a Tour Sunday in contention for the second consecutive week, having lost to a dominant Dustin Johnson to start the year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions; while Hoge, who was bogey-free on Saturday and finished his day with back-to-back birdies, will sleep on his first 54-hole lead on Tour.

That’s if he’s able to sleep at all after one of the most surreal days in recent memory.

Spieth, who endured another non-Spieth-like putting round (31 putts), spent the day reminding his caddie, “at least we’re alive, which isn’t really funny.”

No, it wasn’t funny, but it was eye opening.

It’s rare when the outside world invades the polished confines of golf, but on Saturday those realities came in from all directions and were impossible to ignore or forget.

“I kept thinking to myself, this can’t be real,” Howell said of the text alert. “But then I kept thinking maybe it’s sign of the world we live in. It could be real.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t real, but for 38 tense minutes it certainly felt real enough.

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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.

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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.


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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."