The 12th hole of Augusta National – venue of the Masters Tournament – will forever be associated with the remarkable story of Valentino Dixon.
At the age of 21, Dixon was wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit. He would serve 27 years of a life imprisonment before he eventually walked free in 2018.
And Dixon credits golf – a sport he had never played before – with helping save his life.
After seven years in prison at Attica Correctional Facility in New York, he began to draw after encouragement from a relative to rekindle a childhood talent for art.
“If you can reclaim your talent, you can reclaim your life.” Those were the words his Uncle told him as Dixon recalls in an interview with the DP World Tour.
His flair quickly caught the imagination of his fellow inmates. He was then asked by a prison warden to draw his favourite golf hole – the 12th at Augusta know as Golden Bell, which forms part of the famous three-hole stretch known as Amen Corner.
“I am a black kid from the ghettos of America. Like, what the hell do you want me to draw a golf course for?” he recalls. “But I took up the challenge.”
Everyone loved it. Inmates, wardens and other prison staff alike. Dixon was encouraged to draw more golf holes, while his neighbour then passed on to him some old Golf Digest magazines.
Everyone loved his hand-drawn sketches. Inmates, wardens and other prison staff alike. Dixon was encouraged to draw more golf holes, while his neighbour then passed on to him some old Golf Digest magazines.
They acted as a source of inspiration and led him to write to Max Adler, journalist at the US-based publication
Subsequently, a three-page story was written profiling Dixon and his artwork which brought further media and public attention.
With a spotlight now on his situation, students from Georgetown University in Washington D.C then championed his case.
On September 19, 2018, Dixon was exonerated after another man confessed to the crime.
He has since met greats of the game including Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, and despite losing almost three decades of his life hopes his story can be a source of motivation to others.
“We are all going to be tested with something,” he says. “But if you hang in there and you fight the good fight then you are going to be victorious.”