Scratch amateur plays easiest-ever PGA Championship site. Here’s how it went

roger steele playing valhalla on monday after pga championship

Roger Steele, a scratch amateur, played Valhalla on the Monday after the PGA Championship.

Instagram @roger_steele

Let’s get one thing straight: Valhalla was not easy, not by most golfers’ standards, anyway.

Last week’s PGA Championship host site just played easier, in terms of how the field scored, than any of the 105 previous PGA Championship venues, largely on account of damp, soft conditions. The Friday cut line of one under was the lowest ever at a U.S.-based major. Only four of the 78 players who played the weekend failed to break par. Xander Schaufelle’s winning mark of 21 under was the lowest-ever score in relation to par at a major. Bryson DeChambeau, the runner-up, was the first-ever player to shoot 20 under at a major and not win. The field’s combined score to par? A cool 214 under, which was 254 strokes better than the cumulative field score at the next easiest PGA (Riviera, 1995).

Still, these guys are good, right? To give those numbers more context, it would be a fascinating experiment to see how a scratch amateur would handle Valhalla in major-grade conditions: tippy-tip tees, Sunday pins, no gimmes or rolling balls out of divot holes, the whole deal.

Enter Roger Steele. Steele, if you haven’t come upon him via Instagram, X or YouTube, is a golf-content creator and general man-about-the-game with an envy-inducing swing and 0.7 Handicap Index, even if his scores of late haven’t reflected that gaudy number. “I’ve been playing terribly this year,” he told me by phone Tuesday. “I just had a baby, like, nine or 10 weeks ago, so kind of, you know, coming out of a little bit of a fog.”

On Monday, Steele played Valhalla, in a PGA of America corporate outing. The event was not a serious competition, but Steele wanted to see how his game would hold up on a major setup, so he took his round seriously. He played the tipped-out tournament tees on all but the two holes where it wasn’t permitted and putted out everything. From watching the PGA Championship, he assumed he would hit about half his fairways — “even as scratch golfer, your ball-striking is pretty wishy-washy,” he said — and make bogey or worse when he did find the rough.

Steele is as long as most pros. His ball speed is north of 190 mph, and he can carry his drives 330 yards. Still, no matter what you’ve heard, scoring requires much more than just mashed tee shots. Steele thought a nine-over 80 was a good target for his round but added, “Whatever the worst score logged for the week, I wanted to get under that, and I would have figured that would be a valiant effort.” That score was an 87 posted by club pro Jeff Kellen in the first round.    

One of the tees that Steele played up was at the 500-yard(ish) par-4 opener, where, he said, he nearly drove the green and made birdie. The other was the 590-yard par-5 10th, where he made par. “Throw those two holes out,” Steele said. Fair enough. For the sticklers in the crowd, feel free to assess Steele’s round only through his other 16 holes.  

After parring the par-4 2nd, Steele bogeyed the par-3 3rd. Then at the short par-4th, he tried to drive the green. He deposited his ball in the greenside rough but still made birdie.  “The chip shot wasn’t that bad, granted the rough had dried out even more from days past,” he said. Of the long stuff, generally, Steele said, “I found that the rough was not as daunting as I thought it was.”  

“Six was pretty tough, though,” he continued. “I missed the fairway and I just had no shot at the green. Had to hack it out to the right and to the other right rough. And then hacked it out of the rough with my third shot and still wasn’t on the green. Got up and down for bogey.”

Two over through six.

Steele’s first birdie came at 10 (from a pushed-up tee) but he gave that stroke back when he tried to pull a “Tosti,” aka driving the island-green par-4 13th. Splash. Bogey.

Two over through 11.

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“When you hit the fairways, the course kind of became scorable,” Steele said. “And I felt like because the greens were rolling pure and they were a little bit shaggy because they hadn’t been cut, you really never got out of shape no matter how aggressive you were with your birdie putts.”

Steele said he hit his best shot of the day at 14 where with a 4-iron he sent a “rope right over the flag” to 15 feet. He missed the putt, but the shot seemed to embolden him, because he made closing birdies at 17 and 18 to climb back to even and sign for a 71.

His final assessment of the challenge?

“It was a little easier than I expected,” he said. “But I hit the ball better than I expected to, so I don’t know how to take that.” Of criticisms that Valhalla was not a rigorous enough test for a major, Steele said, “If it was drier, firmer, a lot of these shots that I hit into the fairway could have bounced into the rough, bounced into bunkers. The softness kind of took a little of the teeth out it, and there was no wind, obviously.” Still, Steele added, “The conditions that I played in here, I was expecting it to be a bit more challenging, if I’m being honest.”

His round, he said, marked the first time he’d played a major venue on the Monday after the tournament, but he does have another recent comparison point.

Just the other day, Steele played Pinehurst No. 2, which is playing host to the next men’s major, the U.S. Open, in June. Same deal: tips, no gimmes, good ball-striking day — only with a markedly different result.  

Steele shot 79.

Alan Bastable Editor

As’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

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