The full story of Scottie Scheffler’s shocking arrest: How tragedy, chaos struck at PGA

Scottie Scheffler on Friday at the PGA Championship.

Scottie Scheffler on Friday at the PGA Championship.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There’s only one road in and out of Valhalla Golf Club.

This stretch of U.S. 60 is known as Shelbyville Road; it’s a four-lane highway that connects downtown Louisville with its eastern suburbs. Valhalla is some 20 miles east of downtown, your next left after Barrel 33 Tavern and Grill and Louisville Paving and Construction.

Most weeks the drive from downtown would take just 20 minutes. But PGA Championship week? All bets are off. More than 200,000 spectators are expected on property at some point this week, here to see Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who have won here before, or Brooks Koepka, the defending champ, or Scottie Scheffler, the best golfer in the world.

Traffic snarls easily around here; there’s no simple pedestrian access and not much infrastructure for large-scale parking. Yards and driveways become makeshift lots, charging $50 or $80 or $100 for close access. Trampled grass becomes makeshift sidewalks. There’s a give-and-take between drivers and pedestrians and officers handling traffic control. Everyone’s trying to get where they’re going. Inevitably, things slow to a halt.

On Thursday, a crash near the entrance to the club involving a shuttle bus and an SUV led to a backup on Shelbyville Road. The driver of the vehicle was reportedly treated for minor injuries; it was the sort of unfortunate footnote that frequent accompanies gatherings of this size. Dismayed spectators arrived a little later. The show went on. Xander Schauffele shot a record-setting nine-under 62. McIlroy and Koepka and Scheffler weren’t far behind.

But Friday began dark and dreary. Prep began early, with rain expected for most of the day and tens of thousands of spectators, too.

Then came tragedy.

Around 5 a.m., still 90 minutes before sunrise, a man named John Mills attempted to cross from the south side of the road to the north, near the entrance. Mills was on-site security for the week and either heading to work or already there. As he crossed the road he was struck by a shuttle bus carrying volunteers in from Louisville. Mills was pronounced dead on the scene.

A short while later the PGA sent out an announcement: tee times had been delayed at least an hour after a “serious accident” near the course. At that point the public didn’t know many specifics. Players didn’t, either.

Harris English arrived just after 5 a.m. “I guess I got there right after all the police cars got there,” he said later. “I had no idea what was going on. I knew they weren’t letting anybody through from that side I was arriving from, so I had to turn around, go north of the course, took an extra 20 minutes or so, and then I got to turn into the club.”

Min Woo Lee arrived around 5:30. He skirted around the traffic, he said. “I was following cars — a Lexus car that was one of the courtesy cars.”

Just before 6 a.m., Scheffler arrived at Valhalla’s entrance, intending to get a workout in ahead of his 8:48 a.m. tee time. The course wasn’t yet open to fans but the police force had swarmed to the site of the earlier incident, creating what Brian Harman would later tell ESPN was a “confusing and chaotic” situation.

The specifics of what happened next vary based on perspective.

ESPN reporter Jeff Darlington was standing near the entrance when he saw Scheffler come through in a courtesy car of his own. A police officer tried to flag him down, but whether due to darkness, misunderstanding or something else, Scheffler kept going. That’s when things escalated.

“The officer started to yell obscenities at him and then hung onto the side of his car in some way, the driver’s-side,” Darlington said later on ESPN. Scheffler’s car continued forward some 15 yards before he pulled to a stop.

“The officer took out his flashlight and started banging on the side of the car to get out, but Scheffler did not at first do that,” Darlington continued. “The window came down, the police officer reached inside, opened the door and started to pull Scheffler out. Once Scheffler was out of the vehicle he immediately pressed him, face-first, against the rear driver’s side door, immediately put him in handcuffs and started to walk towards the patrol car.”

The reporting officer, Detective Bryan Gillis of the Louisville Metro Police, gave a different version of events. Gillis said he stopped Scheffler and attempted to give him instructions, but that Scheffler “refused to comply and accelerated forward, dragging [him] to the ground.”

According to the police report, Gillis “suffered pain, swelling, and abrasions to his left wrist and knee. He was transported to the hospital for further medical treatment by emergency medical personnel.”

There was also this detail: “Detective Gillis’ uniform pants, valued at approximately $80, were damaged beyond repair.”

But Scheffler said in a later statement that he was “proceeding as directed by police officers” and described it as “a big misunderstanding.” His attorney, Steven Romines, told ESPN that upon his arrival at the course, Scheffler knew nothing of Mills’ death. “He was going into Valhalla to work out,” Romines said. “He was getting ready for his tee time. They were directing traffic. He held his credential out and was going in like they’d been instructed to.”

At 6:35 a.m. Darlington posted breaking news to Twitter that the world No. 1 and pre-tournament favorite was in handcuffs in the back of a police car. A short while later he posted a video he took of the incident. The video displayed a surreal scene, the rain-soaked parking lot bathed in flashing red-and-blue lights, a handcuffed Scheffler in a blue shirt and shorts being led away by two officers. In the video Scheffler sees Darlington and calls out to him: “Can you please help—” before he’s yanked away, the rest of his request swallowed as he’s led into the darkness and another officer delivering one line to Darlington:

“There’s nothing you can do. He’s going to jail.”

Later, Scheffler described his powerless feeling in that moment.

“I’m sorry,” he told the officer. “I’m just trying to get to my tee time.” He offered numerous apologies. “But it was chaotic, it’s dark, it was raining, there’s a lot of stuff going on. I was doing my best to defuse the situation, really. Yeah, I was just sitting there just trying to remain as calm as possible.”

Scheffler didn’t try to name-drop himself, he said. As he sat and waited he realized it might not have helped, anyway: the officers had no idea who he was.

“I was just sitting there in the back of the car just listening to the police officer as he’s trying to figure out who I am, figure out my name,” he said. “They were trying to find me in the system, but there was something wrong with going across state lines with my Social Security Number and stuff like that.”

Eventually things got even stranger: Scheffler was hauled downtown for booking.

“I was pretty rattled to say the least,” he said. But he appreciated the kindness of the officer who drove him to the station. “We had a nice chat in the car, that kind of helped calm me down. I was sitting there waiting to kind of go in and I asked him, I was like, ‘Hey, excuse me, can you just come hang out with me for a few minutes so I can calm down?'”

Scheffler was never angry, he said. But he was in shock.

“I was shaking the whole time. I was shaking for like an hour,” he said. “It was definitely a new feeling for me.”

At the station, several officers figured out who he was. Scheffler described them as “tremendous.” They cracked some jokes. That helped a little bit.

“This one older officer looked at me as I was doing my fingerprints or whatever, and he looks at me and he goes, ‘So, do you want the full experience today?’ I kind of looked at him, and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to answer that.’ He’s like, ‘Come on, man, you want a sandwich?’ I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll take a sandwich.’ I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.”

His official booking time was 7:28 a.m. Before long his mugshot — orange jumpsuit and all — had hit the internet. Back at the course, nobody could believe it.

“Turn on ESPN and seeing Scottie in handcuffs, getting in a police car? I never would have thought I would have seen that this morning. It was just wild,” English said.

“#FreeScottie” tweeted Lee.

Mark Hubbard was focused on the height and weight portion of the booking: 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

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

Stuck in traffic, Austin Eckroat checked his phone.

“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, and I was like, ‘What in the world is going on,'” he said. “It was a weird morning.”

The first tee time of the day was bumped to 8:35 a.m., but players with morning times quickly grew anxious as they sat in traffic. Eckroat ended up getting out and walking the remaining mile and a half to the clubhouse. He was joined by Cam Young and Will Zalatoris in their trek.

When they arrived in the locker room, Zalatoris said a group of players wondered if they’d even resume play on Friday.

“Some of the guys were talking about, wondering if we should even play today,” he told The Athletic. “At one point there were a group of guys in the locker room talking about going to the PGA of America about it, but I think it was dead in the water in the locker room. It was bizarre. We just didn’t know … When Scottie was going to get out, any of the details.”

From his jail cell, Scheffler didn’t know either.

“I was just so confused at what was happening at the time,” he said. “I didn’t know what time it was. I didn’t know what was going on. There was a TV in the corner, though — and on the TV he saw himself.

“‘Get Up’ was on, so in the corner it showed the time and it said they were delayed, and I was kind of thinking about my tee time, I was like, well, maybe I could be able to get out,” he said. “The officers downstairs, they were discussing how long it was going to take me to get released. Obviously we have to go through all the due process and everything.

“I did spend some time stretching in a jail cell,” he added. “That was a first for me.”

But the charges were serious. Scheffler had been charged with a felony, second-degree assault of a police officer, as well as third-degree criminal mischief, reckless driving and disregarding traffic signals from an officer directing traffic. His arraignment was set for Tuesday.

At 8:40 a.m., Scheffler was released without bail on his own recognizance. There to pick him up? Jimmy Kirchdorfer, a co-owner of Valhalla, who’d pulled up in his Range Rover along with Scheffler’s manager Blake Smith.

At 9:12, Scheffler arrived at Valhalla for the second time. He breezed past a group of reporters and into the locker room, where he announced his arrival, got a plate of eggs and conferred with his team.

“I gave my mom and dad a hug. My coach Randy was there, Blake was there, my whole team was there for me in a moment where I really needed them,” he said. “Especially to — like I said, I was in such shock at what was happening that I didn’t stop shaking for a while just because it was a chaotic situation.”

After an abbreviated warmup and several encouraging greetings from fellow players, Scheffler arrived on the 10th tee alongside Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman to roars from the crowd, who chanted his name. He found the right rough off the tee on the opening par-5 but laid up to the fairway and nearly landed his third shot in the hole; it spun and stopped for a kick-in birdie.

“It probably took a few holes to feel normal. Obviously I didn’t have my normal warmup and I usually stick to my routine and I’m a big routine guy, especially when it comes to my preparation,” he said. But it helped to be back in his comfort zone. “It was kind of nice just to be out there inside the ropes competing. It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do, so I was fortunate to be able to come out here and do it again today.”

If you spent the rest of the day watching Scheffler it would have been tough to distinguish from another day at the office. Six birdies. One bogey. Five-under 66. But there were signs of the day’s abnormality outside the ropes — one group of fans had somehow screen-printed “Free Scottie” t-shirts, while others had his mugshot on theirs — and Scheffler felt the difference, too.

“I would say [I was] in shock and in fear,” he said. “Coming out here and trying to play today was definitely a challenge, but I did my best to control my mind, control my breathing.

“Basically just calm down so I could come out here and try and play golf. I knew there was going to be a lot of distractions, but I didn’t really know what the reception would be like. To be honest with you, it was great having the fans behind me. They cheered for me really loud. I felt like they were really glad to have me out competing today, and it was a nice day to come out here and compete.”

After the round Scheffler’s lawyer once again referenced the incident as a “big misunderstanding.”

“[The charges] will either be dropped or we’ll go to trial, because he didn’t do anything wrong,” he told Golf Channel, dismissing the idea of any sort of settlement. “But it was kind of a perfect storm of circumstances.”

As for Scheffler? He finished his round and then addressed a large group of assembled media.

“My situation will get handled,” he said. “It was a chaotic situation and a big misunderstanding. I can’t comment on any of the specifics of it, so I feel like y’all are going to be disappointed.”

But then he did get into specifics. Where he’d gone, how he felt, how he’d rallied. The jail sandwich and the hands shaking and the helpless feeling in the back of the car and the surprisingly normal golf round.

“I would say it was pretty good,” he said, asked to characterize the round. “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.”

In the end, Scheffler wanted one thing clear: He’ll be fine. This was an oddity as much as anything. A strange, unsettling day. He thanked the police officers who’d helped him and police officers more generally. “They’re our protectors out there,” he said. He insisted he expects his legal issues to be cleared up quickly. And before long he’d be back out at the range, hitting balls and signing autographs and chasing normalcy.

But he began and ended his press conference with a clear focus: The life and loss of John Mills.

“My sympathies go out to the family of Mr. Mills,” he said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through this morning. One day he’s heading to the golf course to a tournament. A few moments later he’s trying to cross the street, and now he’s no longer with us. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. My heart — I feel for them. I’m sorry.”

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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