SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France—Last night USA captain Jim Furyk was in tears, and not because his team was trailing 10-6. He cried, along with his wife, Tabitha, because of a gift they received from the caddies’ wives. In the greater sense of team, Michelle Tesori, wife of Paul, who caddies for Webb Simpson, has been a part of five international competitions. She wanted to get something really special for the Furyks, because she says, “This is the most cohesive team in history, and that’s because of the love extended by Jim and Tabitha, and the Mickelsons, to make sure everyone felt genuinely included.”
A couple days before Michelle left for France, golf made international news. Valentino Dixon, a man who served 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, was exonerated. The unlikely first move to freedom? Dixon mailed a golf picture he’d drawn to Golf Digest, who then investigated his case.
Could we commission Dixon to draw a picture for the Ryder Cup, thought Michelle? The work might take a couple months, but the caddies’ wives could gift the Furyks a note about the artist and say their gift was in production.
But credit to the PGA of America and NBC/Golf Channel’s Jimmy Roberts for fast-forwarding the deal, sending Dixon reference photographs of the trophy and Le Golf National’s 18th hole, and arranging a courier.
Dixon completed the drawing in two 12-hour sessions at his mother’s house in Buffalo, N.Y. On Thursday afternoon the work was collected and delivered across the ocean to Paris for Friday. The caddies’ wives signed the back of the 20-inch by 30-inch board and the golfers discreetly signed a front corner.
Cap backwards in the casual setting of the team room, Jim Furyk wept, having what he called a “Steve Stricker moment.” The drawing was not the only gift with weight. The caddies got Cap’n Jim a bomber jacket with a patch from the 1939 Ryder Cup, intended to be held in Ponte Vedra but canceled because of World War II.
It was only earlier this week that Dixon returned to Attica Correctional Facility—where he lived 26 of the past 27 years—to retrieve his art materials and other belongings. On the way home he stopped by an art store to pick up some new colored pencils.
“I was worried that when I got out, I wouldn’t have the discipline to keep drawing,” Dixon said. But the excitement of creating a piece to hang in a major champion’s house, to potentially be seen by the global sporting world instead of just the inmates on his cellblock, was adequate motivation for the recently freed man to continue the solitary work. “I got my lamps in my bedroom, which is OK, but I really want to get my own studio soon,” Dixon said. As for the recipient of his art? “I’d never heard of Jim Furyk, but I can tell from photos that he’s a no nonsense guy. Intense.”
The caddies’ wives are still passing the collection plate to compensate Dixon for his prompt work, and Michelle says they are committed to do anything they can to help the man in the future. To celebrate his first major sale, hours after Dixon finished the drawing he went out for his first steak dinner in nearly three decades. He got the ribeye, but barely ate half. “It was so good, but my stomach isn’t used to this rich food.”
Though if the 48-year-old is going to make a career as an artist, his digestive tract may have to get accustomed to gala affairs. Golf Digest is organizing a one-man exhibit for Dixon at headquarters at One World Trade Center in New York the week of Oct. 22.
The greatest collection of history paintings, a genre defined by subject matter rather than style, resides in Paris at the Louvre Museum. The exact story that Dixon’s drawing commemorates for Jim Furyk, of course, will be written today. But the bigger arc, that the moment of the 2018 Ryder Cup came on the wings of the only murder exoneration ever associated with the game of golf, is already in the books.