Don’t forget the tragedy at the heart of this year’s PGA Championship

John Mills was 69, working in retirement, when he was struck by a vehicle and killed while working security at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. (Courtesy of Mills family)
John Mills was 69, working in retirement, when he was struck by a vehicle and killed while working security at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. (Courtesy of Mills family)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Someone died Friday morning at the PGA Championship.

Over and above all the concern about Scottie Scheffler’s arrest, the “Free Scottie” T-shirts, the jokes about an officer’s pants “damaged beyond repair,” the questions about the PGA Championship tee times … there’s this: Someone died at a golf tournament.

His name is John Mills. He was 69, working in retirement as a security guard working on Shelbyville Road outside Valhalla Golf Club. The road — U.S. 60 — is a busy five-lane highway with no sidewalks in the area of the golf club. The massive gate into Valhalla sits in a small valley beside the Floyds Fork River, which means that cars, trucks and buses sweep downhill toward the club from both east and west.

All week, traffic has stacked up around the club’s entrance as massive shuttle buses have wound their way from Shelbyville Road onto club property, like ocean liners attempting to parallel park.

The rain rolled into Louisville after midnight on Friday, soaking the roads and creating a cascade of reflections from all the lights and sirens around Valhalla. The details of the accident involving Mills aren’t yet public, but the details don’t really matter. The tournament has proceeded, with grief communicated via press release.

"This morning we were devastated to learn that a worker with one of our vendors was tragically struck and killed by a shuttle bus outside Valhalla Golf Club,” the PGA Championship said in a statement. “This is heartbreaking to all of us involved with the PGA Championship. We extend our sincere condolences to their family and loved ones.”

A later statement added context: “Our primary concern today remains with the family of John Mills, who lost his life in a tragic accident early this morning while reporting to work.”

"Of course, all of us involved in the tournament express our deepest sympathies to the family of the man who passed away in the earlier accident this morning,” Scheffler said in a statement of his own, released while he was on the practice range. “It truly puts everything in perspective."

It’s not supposed to be like this. For all the money involved, golf tournaments — let’s be honest, all sports — are inherently frivolous affairs. When you enter the grounds of a golf club, you’re supposed to be able to leave life’s woes behind for a few hours. You pick a couple players to follow, you cheer on shots you can’t hope to duplicate, maybe you even enjoy a little day drinking. (The bourbon is flowing freely this week in Kentucky.) But then, life doesn’t always work that way. The world has a way of puncturing the little bubbles we create to entertain ourselves.

“He was enjoying his time at Valhalla while working security," Mills family said via a statement. "He liked to stay busy in retirement. We love him and will miss him.”

Life rolls on. The tournament rolls on. But in years to come, when we think of this strange, chaotic day, when we look back on one of the more bizarre days in golf history … take a moment to remember John Mills, and the tragedy at the heart of this all.