Ties that bind

By Rex HoggardJune 29, 2011, 8:34 pm

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – On this the Official World Golf Ranking is not the culprit, just the crystal-clear catalyst. You may not be a fan of the OWGR math, but there’s no denying that Rory McIlroy is the globe’s third-best at the moment.

Ditto for Lee Westwood (No. 2), Martin Kaymer (fourth) and, yes, even Luke Donald, who has held down the top spot for five weeks now. All total, five of the top 10 in the world order are from Europe. Even more telling, three of the top 4 are not PGA Tour members.

Many experts of all nationalities agree this is part of a cycle, a natural order expedited by Tiger Woods’ freefall and Phil Mickelson’s curious funk. To a Tour official, however, it’s difficult to see anything other than a disturbing trend, particularly when one considers that the circuit will begin a new round of television negotiations later this year and is currently meeting with FedEx to continue sponsoring the circuit’s season-long playoff run.

McIlroy, as a former frat brother who let his membership lapse last year, is limited to 10 Tour starts this season, has played seven and will likely only play two more the rest of the way (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship). Expect the same totals for Westwood and Kaymer, also non-members who currently have seven starts in the books.

In April McIlroy’s manager Chubby Chandler said, “If he could play 12 or 13 (instead of the Tour minimum 15 events) he’d be all right.”

And why shouldn’t the world’s third-ranked player and most-recent major winner be allowed to “cherry pick” his schedule? The European Tour has loopholes in its regulations to make room for the world’s best and brightest and if one has ascended to the top of the global heap it’s impossible to argue that they aren’t deserving.

One proposal that has been floated in recent weeks is to simply exempt anyone ranked inside the top 10 into whatever event they wishes to play, regardless of regulations or tour affiliation.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” acknowledged Tour commissioner Tim Finchem on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say it’s the first thing on our agenda.”

Perhaps not, and the commish certainly must traverse the fine line between delivering the best possible fields and protecting those players who support the circuit full time.

“You’ve got to protect your members and protect your brand. There’s a reason why the Tour is the best tour in the world,” Joe Ogilvie said. “You can’t make a decision based on a six-month cycle. I’m of the belief American golf doesn’t have a big problem.”

But if the “cycle” continues and power keeps shifting toward the Continent it’s going to become increasingly difficult to dismiss the holes that currently dot the top of the circuit’s tee sheet.

On Wednesday at Aronimink Golf Club Finchem continued to take the high road on this issue, saying, in short, that what’s good for the Tour may not always be good for the growth of global golf, a position he is increasingly taking ever since golf worked its way back into the Olympic fold.

“If we’re successful in changing rules so that a player, an international player can play four or five more times here that’s great for those weeks here, (but) it means that he’s not going to play three or four times someplace else,” he said.

That Finchem would make such a distinction at this week’s AT&T National, an invitational that features a field that looks more like a “classic,” was telling. Since the AT&T began in 2007 the quality of its field, at least when measured by the World Ranking, has steadily declined.

This week’s field does not include a single player ranked inside the top 10 (and just four from the top 20), compared to two top-10 players in 2010, four in ’09, two in ’08 and six in ’07.

Although Finchem stressed that the Tour does not use the World Ranking to measure the quality of its fields, it’s impossible to ignore the high-profile absentees.

Whether a change in the exemption rules for international players would help AT&T National, centrally located two weeks before and after the U.S. and British opens, respectively, is doubtful. What isn’t up for debate is how beneficial another two or three starts for McIlroy in the United States could be at a crucial time for the Tour.

Finchem said it’s not likely such a rules adjustment would be made before next season, and by that time perhaps the “cycle” has swung back in America’s favor, but given the current landscape we wouldn’t bet that sprawling clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass on it.

Maybe Greg Norman was right and a “world tour” is a Darwin-like inevitability. And maybe it’s time the Tour opens up the shop, however slightly, to make room for that inevitability.

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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.