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New to the game, Patterson crashing Volvik WLD party

By Will GraySeptember 5, 2017, 8:25 pm

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – When asked to assess the length of his burgeoning long drive career, Wes Patterson started counting and paused.

“Today’s the fifth, right?” he asked.

His is not a typical path to the Volvik World Long Drive Championship, instead a circuitous route that started with professional baseball and more recently detoured into professional golf. Patterson, 28, considers himself a “nomad” who apparently packs enough athletic ability to succeed at nearly any sport he touches.

That now includes long drive, as his improbable run that started in a satellite qualifier last week has now netted an unheralded player a spot in Tuesday’s Round of 16 at the Winstar World Casino and Resort.

The group of contenders still standing includes several household names: defending champ Joe Miller is still alive, as is two-time winner Tim Burke. But Patterson is holding his own against a stacked field of top-ranked participants despite the fact that he hasn’t played in enough events to even garner a ranking.

A month ago, he didn’t expect to be here. A week ago he considered withdrawing. But after toppling the world No. 1 – twice – he suddenly has a shot at the $125,000 top prize.

“It’s gone really fast. I kind of showed up on Friday and didn’t know what to expect,” Patterson said. “Didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was just trying to hit the ball hard and straight.”

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Patterson doesn’t sport a bodybuilder’s frame, and his soft-spoken Southern drawl is a stark contrast to many of the outspoken personalities of the sport. But like many others, Patterson has a background in another discipline that he has parlayed into success on the grid.

A standout pitcher at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Patterson signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2011 as a free agent pending a physical. But he blew out his elbow in the last week of his senior season, tearing his UCL and effectively ending his MLB career before it started.

After Tommy John surgery, he bounced around independent leagues, tried coaching and ultimately spent a year pitching in Australia. But he went through unexpected visa issues and got deported – meaning he couldn’t return to Australia for three years even though his team had offered him a contract renewal.

“I basically had to retire right there,” he said.

Patterson quickly turned his attention to golf. While he played competitively growing up, he didn’t turn pro until March 2016 – and even that planned path was temporarily derailed by an ill-timed car accident. Earlier this summer, Patterson had expected to spend this week at Tour Pre-Qualifying with hopes of jump-starting a pro career in his backup sport.

But the 54-hole qualifier brought with it a $2,700 entry fee, a price tag that would only climb if he advanced. Patterson made an earnest assessment of both his game and bank account and decided to change course.

“I had enough money if I made it through the first couple stages, but I was just being honest with myself,” he said. “I haven’t been playing too well to be able to make that big of an investment.”

Patterson found himself back at the drawing board, but his instructor Brian Delaney saw potential off the tee. Just three weeks ago, Delaney shipped out a trio of extra-long drivers and told Patterson to check the mail.

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” Delaney told Patterson.

Patterson started pounding the ball, and he saw some favorable numbers. He decided to take a shot at the world championship, but even this week’s entry fee was partially funded by his mom (“Don’t tell my brothers,” he joked) and almost led to another 11th-hour exit.

“The last day of sign-up, I was thinking about withdrawing,” he said. “Because it was going to be $1,400 on my credit card bill, and that’s a lot of money.”

In another turn of events, Patterson had some late equipment issues. While he’s based in St. Louis he also trains part of the year in Houston, and his equipment became inaccessible after the flooding caused last week by Hurricane Harvey.

But thanks in part to encouragement from Delaney and his family – and some equipment assistance from long-drive peers like Ryan Riesbeck – Patterson stayed in the 61-man qualifier where 26 spots in the final, 96-man field were available.

He made it through that gauntlet and continued to advance, but as the lowest-ranked player remaining in the field he drew world No. 1 Maurice Allen in the double-elimination Round of 32. In the first match of the day Monday, he pulled off an improbable upset with a pair of 350-yard bombs.

In a win-or-go-home rematch later in the day, Patterson beat Allen again, knocking out one of the sport’s most recognizable faces with a 373-yard strike into the breeze.

“Wes is an awesome hitter. When you look at his numbers, the Trackman when it comes up (Tuesday) night, you’ll see that he’s hitting the ball and smoking it,” Allen said. “The balls he hit against me were just perfect balls. Perfect flight, perfect speed into the wind. Can’t argue with that at all.”

So now, the pitcher turned golfer turned long drive specialist has a spot in the Round of 16, where he’ll face off with Riesbeck, the man who spotted him a new driver head at the start of the event. At the very least, Patterson has turned a profit on his investment – a loss tonight will still earn him $3,500.

But a win under the lights means a spot in Wednesday’s finale, where he could potentially turn a sport that is largely identified by the success of a handful of top-tier players firmly on its head.

“You don’t know what to expect until you get here,” Patterson said. “I don’t really get too nervous, especially when I see the first one get in the grid. That kind of settles me down. But it’s been pretty much a whirlwind.”

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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.