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Monday Scramble: Good 'bye' for others

By Will GraySeptember 11, 2017, 4:00 pm

The PGA Tour takes the week off, the Presidents Cup rosters are finalized, the Walker Cup takes center stage and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Halftime is officially over.

The lightest week on the golf calendar has come and gone, as both the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour Finals sat idle last week. But both circuits will soon return to full force to begin a three-week sprint through the end of the season.

For the game's biggest names, the Tour Championship sits just one week away with the Presidents Cup after that. The BMW Championship is a last chance for some to qualify for East Lake, while others like Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas will look to rekindle their postseason momentum to retain their coveted positions within the top five in the points race.

Meanwhile, the race for status renews in Boise as a mix of Web.com and PGA Tour pros vie for the handful of cards still up for grabs for next season, with stops still to come in Ohio and Florida.

The calendar reads September, and football is in full force. But there's still plenty to play for on the course.


1. What was old is new again.

Thanks in large part to a T-6 finish at TPC Boston, Phil Mickelson snagged one of the last two spots on the U.S. Presidents Cup team thanks to a pick from captain Steve Stricker.

Mickelson's inclusion on the roster at Liberty National was never really in doubt, especially when other bubble contenders like Brian Harman and Gary Woodland failed to mount a late charge. But it serves as another impressive mark of consistency for Mickelson, who hasn't won in more than four years but still hasn't missed a team competition since 1993.

Consider this for perspective: Mickelson has played in either the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup every year of 22-year-old Jon Rahm's lifetime.

2. Expect a strong showing later this month from Charley Hoffman, the second recipient of a pick from Stricker who will make his team debut at age 40.

Hoffman has had a remarkably consistent season, but it didn't include a victory and he was edged out by the thinnest of margins by Kevin Chappell for the final spot. Leaving him off the team when it essentially came down to a single shot over a two-year window would have been borderline cruel.

Hoffman has had a knack for stepping up in big events this year, and now he'll have a chance to do so once again - this time donning the red, white and blue.

3. International captain Nick Price's selection of Emiliano Grillo seemed a likely choice, while he has opted to offer Anirban Lahiri a shot at redemption.

Lahiri was nearly inconsolable after missing a short putt on the last hole of his singles match against Chris Kirk at the 2015 Presidents Cup that proved pivotal in the narrow American win. It capped an 0-3 week for the Indian, and he hasn't cracked the top 15 since his runner-up at the Memorial in June.

But largely devoid of other viable options near the bubble, Price went with a veteran who has some playing experience in the U.S. - and who will be eager to make up for previous shortcomings.



4. After authoring another impressive performance, Lexi Thompson took a big stride toward the No. 1 ranking.

Thompson went wire-to-wire at the inaugural Indy Women in Tech Championship, finishing four shots clear of Lydia Ko after making 23 birdies across the 54-hole event. It's her second win of the season, ninth of her career and lifts the 22-year-old back to a career-best No. 2 in the world.

Thompson's 2017 campaign will likely be remembered for the controversy that surrounded her playoff loss at the ANA Inspiration in April. But to her credit, she was able to move on from a bitter defeat and has now continued to assert her position as the best American in the women's game.

5. Ko's runner-up finish was a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.

The former world No. 1 has dropped all the way down to eighth in the world rankings, and this was just her second top-5 finish of 2017. Ko made headlines in the offseason when she changed basically every aspect of her game, from clubs to caddie to instructor.

It's been an uphill battle ever since, but her performance in the Hoosier State shows that all is not yet lost for a player who still can't legally buy a beer in the U.S. for another six months.



6. It might be time to start paying attention to what Matthew Fitzpatrick has been able to achieve early in his European Tour career.

The Englishman won the U.S. Amateur back in 2013, and he has played plenty of professional golf in the U.S. But he seems to play his best on the other side of the Atlantic, including Sunday when he topped Scott Hend in a playoff to win the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.

It's Fitzpatrick's fourth career win in Europe at the ripe old age of 23, a sure sign that he is able to capitalize on more than his fair share of chances once he gets within arm's length of the lead. Fitzpatrick showed his age at last year's Ryder Cup, and he has struggled for much of this season.

But with yet another trophy on his mantle, he has again reminded folks that he packs plenty of potential - and should continue to do so for years to come.



7. The Walker Cup is back on American soil.

Collin Morikawa and Norman Xiong's 8-and-7 victory in the tournament's opening match was an indicator of what was to come, as the U.S. team took an 8-4 lead after the first day and won back the trophy in a 19-7 rout.

The Americans were heavy favorites on paper, and they played like it from start to finish. Three players finished the week a perfect 4-0: Morikawa, U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim and Maverick McNealy, who found a fitting way to cap a standout amateur career before embarking on his pro debut next month.

8. While the Americans left with the trophy, the big winner at the Walker Cup was Los Angeles Country Club.

The North Course shined under a rare spotlight, showcased in pristine conditions and offering players a stern but interesting test. It left many in the golf world salivating for the 2023 U.S. Open, when the course will host a major for the first time and should make a much more well-received debut than either Chambers Bay or Erin Hills.

9. The Walker Cup continues to boast one of the most underrated venue rotations of any event in golf, pro or amateur.

Two years from now the scene will shift to Royal Liverpool, while 2021 will mark a return to the U.S. at storied Seminole Golf Club. Then in 2025, it heads to Cypress Point.

Tough to beat that lineup.

 

 


I mean ... we've all thought about doing it. Kudos to this guy for having the dedication to follow through, and hopefully he can re-stock his bag at a discount rack sometime soon.

This week's award winners ... 


Mult-Sport Fan: Tiger Woods. The 14-time major champ hasn't been seen on the course in more than seven months, but he made another public appearance this weekend to take in some tennis at the U.S. Open alongside his kids in New York. And, of course, he did so while sporting some gear for "his" Raiders.

Troll Game on Point: Patrick Reed, who broke out some Notre Dame gear just in time for the Fighting Irish to play a football game against Georgia, where Reed's college career was both brief and controversial. Reed did use the occasion to share that he and his wife, Justine, are expecting a second child:

Target Golf: The 15th hole at LACC, which played to a devilish 78 yards during the first day of the Walker Cup. With par-3s trending these days to 250 yards and beyond, it was refreshing to see that a hole could be well under 100 yards and still pose a challenge.

Impressive Debut: The Japan Airlines Championship, which marked the first trip to Japan by the PGA Tour Champions and seemed to be well-received by all players involved, including champion Colin Montgomerie. Look for a similar response when the PGA Tour branches out to South Korea with a new event next month.

Making the Most of It: Ken Duke, one of several pros who battled the elements of Hurricane Irma in Florida. But I don't think any of Duke's peers would be able to match the catch his daughter reeled in between rain bands:

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: None! One of the few benefits of a bye week. Rest assured, plenty of misguided selections on tap this week at Conway Farms.

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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."

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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.