Golf: Strange day at Valhalla

Published 2:03 am Saturday, May 18, 2024


LOUISVILLE, Ky.   — Xander Schauffele was in the lead for the fifth time in his last six rounds. Masters champion Scottie Scheffler was in the thick of contention with his 42nd straight round of par or better. Bryson DeChambeau smashed his way into the mix with nine tee shots over 300 yards.

By all accounts, this was just another day at the PGA Championship.

Not even close.

Not with Scheffler in handcuffs before dawn in the back of a police car. Not with the second round delayed by 1 hour, 20 minutes because of a fatal pedestrian-bus accident right outside the gates of Valhalla. Not with a few fans dressed in orange jumpsuits, and T-shirts being sold that said in big letters, “Free Scottie.”

Most of the golf, from Collin Morikawa’s five straight birdies to Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods missing the cut, felt like a footnote on this freaky Friday.

Scheffler, a month ago decked out in a Masters green jacket, was in orange jail garb for a mug shot when he was arrested for not following police investigating the fatal accident.

“You felt like it was sort of a prank or something when you see a mug shot of Scottie,” Schauffele said after a 3-under 68 to lead Morikawa by one shot going into the weekend.

Scheffler was released from jail and made it back to Valhalla with 56 minutes to spare before his tee time. He shot a 66 was three shots back in his bid for a second straight major.

“I feel like my head is still spinning,” he said.

The world’s No. 1 player was driving to Valhalla about 6 a.m. when he ran into traffic, unaware police were investigating a pedestrian — John Mills, who worked for a vendor at the tournament — being struck and killed by a shuttle bus near the entrance.

Scheffler was arrested for failing to follow police instructions. The arrest report alleged a Louisville Metro police officer was dragged to the ground as Scheffler’s car drove by, causing swelling and abrasions on the officer’s left wrist. Scheffler said it was a “chaotic situation” and he never intended to disregard the police instructions. “A big misunderstanding,” he said.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through. I feel for them,” he said of the victim’s family. “My situation will get handled.”

Scheffler was handcuffed and taken into custody. He could see from the holding cell video of his arrest on ESPN. His heart was racing and his body was shaking.

“I did spend some time stretching in a jail cell. That was a first for me,” Scheffler said. “I was just sitting there waiting and I started going through my warmup. I felt like there was a chance I may be able to still come out here and play. I started going through my routine and I tried to get my heart rate down as much as I could today.

“I was fortunate to be able to make it back out and play some golf today.”

Not just any golf. He hit a wedge to 3 feet for birdie on his first hole. He was solid from tee-to-green, made a few putts and had a round that ranked among his best under the circumstances.

“As far as best rounds of my career, I would say it was pretty good,” Scheffler said. “I definitely never imagined ever going to jail, and I definitely never imagined going to jail the morning before one of my tee times for sure.”

The long day finally ended in darkness with 18 players still on the course. They were to return Saturday morning to finish the second round. The cut would be at least 1-under par, the lowest in PGA Championship history.

Valhalla is soft and defenseless, and hardly any wind made it even easier.

Schauffele stalled at the end, making his first bogey on the par-3 11th hole. He lost one good birdie chance on the par-5 18th when he had mud on his golf ball, which explained why a good swing produced a wild hook into the hay.

“We’re pro golfers, we’re not professional mud readers,” Schauffele said. “So I was praying that the mud on my ball wasn’t going to do something, and I felt like I made a really nice pass at it … and I look up and my ball’s just duck-hooking across the property.”

He was at 12-under 130.

Morikawa challenged at the Masters and is back for more, and while his swing helps him keep the ball in front of him, it’s his putting that is making him believe he can be there at the end.

“I know I still have it in me, and that’s what’s exciting,” he said. “After Augusta, it sucked to finish like that and it sucked to lose to Scottie, but at the end of the day, I knew I had three more majors coming up.”

Scheffler was at 133 with DeChambeau (65), Thomas Detry (67) and Mark Hubbard, who had three bogeys and three birdies over his last seven holes in a round of 68.

Hubbard got some attention early Friday with a post to X that referenced Scheffler’s police report, including a listed weight of 170 pounds.

“Scottie’s bigger than me, there’s no way he’s 170,” Hubbard said after his round. “Like, I got to get in the gym and stop eating so much of my kids’ leftover mac and cheese.”

But then he turned serious, as so many other players did, expressing shock over seeing Scheffler in handcuffs and sadness for Mills, the 69-year-old victim.

“I thought the saddest part was that the whole thing was about Scottie getting arrested and all that — and like I said, I’m glad he’s doing OK and everything — but I mean, someone died this morning, and we were out there on the course. I bet 90% of the people out here don’t even know that happened.

“That’s not Scottie’s fault at all, but that was the real tragedy today.”

Austin Eckroat, who won his first PGA Tour title earlier this year at the Cognizant Classic, got out of his car in traffic and walked the rest of the way. His wife took the car and later returned. He fashioned another 67 and was in the group at 8-under 134.

“I pulled up the local news station trying to figure out what was going on, and the first thing I saw was Scottie had been put in handcuffs,” Eckroat said. “And I was like, ‘What in the world is going on?’ It was a weird morning.”

The only normalcy was the golf. Schauffele is still going strong. Morikawa keeps moving closer to the form that brought him two majors. And Scheffler still looks like the player to beat.

“I’ve kept myself in the tournament now with a pretty chaotic day, so I’m going to go from here and focus on getting some rest and recovery and get ready for a grind the last two days,” Scheffler said.