Scheffler Arrest, Fatal Accident Are an Embarrassing Culmination of a Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided

The potential for tragedy was always there outside Valhalla, writes Louisville resident Pat Forde. On Friday it all came to fruition, and now we're focused on the wrong thing.
Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The building blocks of a tragedy have been in place for a long time at Valhalla Golf Club. This is a logistically difficult setup for entry and exit, with people always searching for a workaround to avoid long delays and difficult commutes. Trouble has been avoided for decades, but the potential was always there.

Tragedy struck before dawn Friday morning, hours before the scheduled start of the second round of the PGA Championship. A pedestrian was hit and killed by a bus, and in the aftermath the No. 1 golfer in the world was arrested for allegedly disregarding police orders while trying to enter the course (in a statement, Scottie Scheffler called it a "misunderstanding"). It was an astonishing pileup of bad news.

The deceased should be the primary focus, but in the callous sports world many people were more concerned with whether Scheffler was going to be released from the Jefferson County Jail in time to make his morning tee time. This became a “Free Scottie” lark instead of a Rest In Peace moment. It was frankly embarrassing.

The context for Friday’s events is this: There is a lot of foot traffic into and out of Valhalla during major competitions, and no safe passage for those pedestrians along a crowded thoroughfare. It’s become a traditional sight: fans (and even workers) on foot along Shelbyville Road, which has two lanes each of eastbound and westbound traffic and a center turn lane. 

There is only one way in and out. And there are no sidewalks and no crosswalks in the vicinity of Valhalla. But that doesn’t stop people from finding parking spots at nearby businesses or adjacent neighborhoods and walking to and from the course that sits on the north side of the road.

Over the years, parking has progressively become harder to come by on or near the property. Most fans park at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center some 18 miles away and are shuttled in. The media rides shuttle buses from about eight miles away. As such, the bus traffic on Shelbyville has been heavy all week and delays have been considerable.

Combining that traffic with the number of people on foot in an area not suited for pedestrians, and what happened Friday is not completely shocking.

Around 5 a.m., according to police reports, a man was crossing from the south side of Shelbyville to the north side in front of the course. He was struck by a bus and killed. Per a PGA statement, the man was a worker with one of their vendors. Fans were not allowed admittance at that early hour.

At 6:35 a.m., ESPN reporter Jeff Darlington posted that Scheffler had been handcuffed and arrested outside the course. (Golfers are one of the few groups of people associated with the tournament who have on-course parking privileges.) Darlington subsequently posted video of Scheffler being led away in cuffs. The actual incident happened around 6 a.m.

It seems likely that Scheffler had no idea that a fatality had transpired, but disobeying police orders to stop is always a risky endeavor—and the cops reacting forcefully to reckless driving in the aftermath of a traffic fatality is also understandable. The situation led to his arrest and a mug shot that went viral within minutes Friday morning. 

Scheffler was booked on charges of second-degree assault of a police officer, third-degree criminal mischief, reckless driving and disregarding traffic signals from an officer directing traffic. He was booked at Jefferson County jail around 7:30 a.m. 

Louisville Metro Police report for Scottie Scheffler
Louisville Metro Police report for Scottie Scheffler / Louisville Metro Police

Scheffler’s Louisville-based attorney, Steve Romines, issued the following statement Friday morning to Sports Illustrated: “In the early hours of the morning in advance of his tee time Scottie was going to the course to begin his pre-round preparation. Due to the combination of event traffic and a traffic fatality in the area it was a very chaotic situation. He was proceeding as directed by another traffic officer and driving a marked player’s vehicle with credentials visible. In the confusion, Scottie is alleged to have disregarded a different officer’s traffic signals resulting in these charges. Multiple eyewitnesses have confirmed that he did not do anything wrong but was simply proceeding as directed. He stopped immediately upon being directed to and never at any point assaulted any officer with his vehicle. We will litigate this matter as needed and he will be completely exonerated.”

Scheffler returned to the course at approximately 9:10 a.m. And here’s where the situation got even stranger.

The PGA of America basically rolled out the red carpet for Scheffler’s return to the site of where he was arrested and ultimately charged with felony assault of a police officer. Imagine any other athlete getting busted, then being sent out to compete four hours later—with the apparent blessing of all involved parties. A police escort back to the scene of an alleged assault of a police officer?

Did anyone step up and consider the optics here?

How does Louisville Metro Police feel about the extraordinary privilege bestowed upon a star golfer? How do other athletes feel who have been treated far more harshly by the leaders of their sport after brushes with the law?

A large percentage of the fans clearly don’t care. They cheered for Scheffler and chanted his name when he took to the 10th tee to start his round in a steady rain. They shouted their approval when he delivered a great second shot out of the rough.

In the Show Must Go On haste of a major championship, the availability of the No. 1 golfer in the world to play the second round of a tournament somehow became the most important part of a sad and terrible morning. A man was dead, an arrest was made … and people were worried about a tee time.


Published |Modified
Pat Forde

PAT FORDE

Pat Forde covers college sports, the Olympics and horse racing for Sports Illustrated. Pat wrote two books and was nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his work at SI, Pat is also the co-host of the College Football Enquirer podcast. He is an analyst for the Big Ten Network and contributes to national radio shows. In a career spanning more than three decades, Pat has worked at Yahoo! Sports, ESPN and the Louisville Courier-Journal.