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Friday Afternoon Notes from a Surreal Scene at Valhalla Golf Club

Nick Roushby:Nick Roush05/17/24

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It’s a little after 1 o’clock inside the media center at the PGA Championship and I’m finally able to exhale. This morning at Valhalla Golf Club was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in more than a decade of sports reporting. Allow me to share my perspective from an eventful morning.

Somber Start

Before diving waist-deep into the hi-jinx of it all, we must first acknowledge the tragedy that teed this thing off. Somebody died on their way to work at 5 am. It’s a tragedy.

After shuttling into Valhalla all week, sadly, it’s not surprising that an accident occurred. Shelbyville Road is incredibly busy. That’s why officials encouraged patrons to avoid walking to the course. There are no sidewalks, only shoulders for pedestrians. To get people to the golf course, the PGA is running shuttles all over the city, adding significant bus traffic to the four-lane highway that’s covered in orange cones. It created the setting for a disaster, one that ultimately will define the 2024 PGA Championship.

A Late Arrival to Valhalla

The fatal accident forced the PGA to postpone the start of the second round of the tournament. This radio host had another concern — starting the 7 am radio show on time. Sitting alongside my co-host in a shuttle bus behind a line of cars with red brake lights, we were stuck, knowing there was no way to possibly arrive for the show on time.

That anxiety was replaced with another emotion: shock.

When Drew Deener showed us the Jeff Darlington tweet around 6:45 am, we stared in disbelief. “That’s not a real Tweet. No way.” What unfolded was a game of telephone between media members on the bus, unable to comprehend what was actually happening. The best golfer in the world was in handcuffs. I thought the first mugshot of Scottie Scheffler on the internet was photoshopped. This couldn’t be real. Needless to say, we had enough content to fill up 90 minutes of time on-air.

A Great Day for the Internet

Before I stepped onto the course to see Scottie Scheffler actually tee it up, scrolling on Twitter produced the most entertainment value you could ever ask for. Some of the best highlights:

The Circus Surrounding Scottie Scheffler at Valhalla

Scheffler was arrested, booked, released, and returned to Valhalla with about an hour to spare before his 10:08 am tee time. If you were at the golf course, there was no other place to be.

Standing on the fairway, you could hear the roar when Scheffler arrived at the tee box. One of the most popular players on tour became a folk hero instantly. “SCOTTIE! SCOTTIE! SCOTTIE!” chants rang out, with some individuals hollering “FREE SCOTTIE!”

The masses followed him throughout the day while he appeared unfazed by his early morning arrest. His first tee shot found the rough, but it didn’t matter. He still birdied the first hole. More birdies and fans followed him through the rain-soaked grounds all afternoon, creating a scene unlike any other in the history of golf.

An Unfortunate Consequence for Valhalla

This morning’s unusual events brought more casual eyeballs to the PGA Championship. The drama will undoubtedly be good for the sport in the short term. In the long term, this is a disaster for Valhalla and the sport of golf in Kentucky.

The PGA of America sold its ownership stake in the club to local businessmen, most notably Junior Bridgeman, in 2022. The transaction meant there were no guarantees that a major championship would ever return to Louisville beyond this year’s PGA Championship.

To make sure Valhalla didn’t get out of the major championship rotation, the owners invested millions to improve the site. The most striking immediate change was a $4.8 million renovation to the clubhouse. This year’s tournament was a chance to prove to PGA officials that Valhalla is worth hosting major championships, bringing in about $150 million in economic activity to the area, even if PGA of America didn’t have a stake in the course. Today’s events most likely eliminate the chance that a PGA Championship will return to Valhalla anytime soon.

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2024-06-14