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Scottie Scheffler Arrest: The surreal scenes of Scottie Scheffler's return after arrest

May 17, 2024
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Scottie Scheffler hits a shot on the 10th hole, his first of the day, on Friday.

David Cannon

LOUISVILLE — He arrived two minutes before his starting time in the PGA Championship, from the walkway connecting the practice facility to the 10th tee with an umbrella in his left hand as his right dangled by his side, and the mere sight of Scottie Scheffler conjured a roar from the grandstands that rolled down the crowds lining the fairway that had come to see if he would show. Scheffler nodded his head and waved his right hand, and a small smile broke across his face as he was embraced by playing partners Brian Harman and Wyndham Clark, those cheers changing into a symphony of, “SCOTT-IE! SCOTT-IE! SCOTT-IE!” For the briefest of seconds, it appeared what happened Friday morning could be jettisoned into the past. But after the cries of his name crescendoed, another voice pierced the air—”Scottie, what’s your lawyer’s name, can he help me out?!” The yell was met with an uncomfortable silence, a sharp reminder that the past was still very present, that no one quite knew what to make of this moment in the face of so much unknown.

Scheffler, a man so allergic to controversy he was often labeled “boring,” was caught by cameras hours earlier being handcuffed and put into the back of a police cruiser in the Valhalla Golf Club parking lot, near the spot where an hour before a pedestrian was hit and killed by a shuttle bus in a separate incident. Scheffler was arrested and charged with second-degree assault of a police officer, criminal mischief and reckless driving, and the release of his mugshot confirmed the surreal had occurred.

There is no game plan, no guidelines or best practices for how to respond to something so serious, and so unique. This is especially true as of now: details are limited, there are conflicting stories coming out, and it can be tough to distill truth from rumor. This created a frenetic energy on the grounds at Valhalla Friday morning, where no one knew what to do with that energy or how that should feel what they were feeling. That was apparent when a black SUV pulled under the Valhalla clubhouse awning. Less than 30 minutes after a photo of Scheffler dressed in an orange prison shirt appeared on the internet, the back door of the SUV opened and Scheffler emerged. The reception Scheffler received on his walk to the range immediately underlined an obvious yet uncomfortable truth: The non-controversial, dull player had just stepped into a cultural inflection point.

Scheffler had barely made his way down the hill to Valhalla’s warm-up area when the first cry came out, “Scottie, you’re just like Tiger!”—a nod to the 15-time major winner’s multiple vehicular incidents. As Scheffler eschewed the green for the range as the light mist turned into a steady rain, another voice scream, “Scheffler, where’s the orange jumpsuit!” and “Scottie, can you sign the arrest warrant?” ESPN, which had been following Scheffler’s trek, soon cut out its audio, attempting to silence what would soon be routine.

For posterity, Scheffler’s reception was overwhelmingly one of support throughout the morning. The most common howls for Scheffler over his first nine holes were variations of “Let’s go Scottie!” and “Hang in there, Scottie!” The gallery was well aware of what happened and how it allegedly went down. They were also in tune with Scheffler’s reputation as a nice, likable guy, and that he’s been a father for a little over a week. Wherever Scheffler walked, he was followed by a crowd that sensed he could be hurting, so they did whatever it took to let him know they were here for him. For whatever else was said, for whatever else will happen, it was a reminder that people are good.

However, the upshot to a golf crowd’s civility is that it only takes one catcall to sound like nails on a chalkboard, and on this morning there were plenty of screeches. When Scheffler hit his third shot to a few feet on the par-5 10th, a man double-fisting Michelob Ultras hollered, “Pretty good for first day out on bail!” When he converted the ensuing putt there was a cry of “A bird for the jailbird!” After a missed par attempt at the 11th hole someone joked, “It’s hard to putt with an ankle bracelet.”

Inappropriate, absolutely. Poor taste, yes. But the overall tone was not of one of derision or embarrassment towards Scheffler. They were not made at his expense. Humor can be an outlet of processing, and misguided as these wisecracks were, these were simply poor attempts at compartmentalizing something that, right now, seems hard to explain.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were exclamations of the utmost sincerity. “Say her name!” “Say her name!” “Say her name!” At least once a hole, Scheffler was serenaded with “Say her name!” That’s a reminder of the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, a 28-year-old African-American who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police officers—a death that spurred civil unrest across the country. More than a few loudly wondered if Scheffler’s outcome would have been different if he wasn’t rich, famous and white. There were also anti-enforcement jeers. A security guard who followed Scheffler’s group was taunted with, “F--k the police” multiple times in the morning, including right in the face of one guard to the left of the 12th fairway. Again, judging by the tenor, these were not necessarily directed at Scheffler. Instead, they were reminders of what this country has suffered, and the fight and struggle that remains ongoing. That sports, while occasionally providing respites from the pangs of the real world, can also be a mirror to reality.

We’d be remiss in failing to mention the “Free Scottie!” movement. It was said roughly once every 30 seconds, and the 11th grandstand broke out a chant, “Free SCOTT-IE! Free SCOTT-IE!” There were several men who wrote the phrase on white collared shirts with black marker. It was sometimes said in solidarity; it was sometimes said as a joke. It was said because Scheffler has an arrangement on Tuesday, and because one of the charges he’s facing is a felony.

It would be unfair to call Scheffler detached from this environment, for anyone with ears could not hear what was being said. It’s often impossible to tell how Scheffler is playing, because the man runs cool, forever and always. On Friday, he very much looked like a man who was not at play, but at work, and ready to punch out the clock. Scheffler often kept his distance from his playing mates and conferred with caddie Ted Scott only before shots. He would occasionally raise a hand after applause for a shot; otherwise, his head was down, looking up only when he reached his ball for the next swing. Judging by his score, the strategy worked; Scheffler was four under par for the day on his back nine and close to the lead at this PGA Championship.

Yet Scheffler didn’t make it far off the 18th green, on his ninth hole of the day, before a fan quipped, “Now that he’s gone maybe you can borrow O.J.’s Bronco!” Scheffler didn’t turn back, instead walking through a temporary green-felt maze that connects the 18th green to the first tee. There is more golf to be played, even if that golf won’t look normal for Scheffler anytime soon.