Lynch: Scottie Scheffler’s scandal shows why the PGA Tour has to look elsewhere for much-needed spice

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was during the 82nd PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club a couple dozen years ago that Stuart Appleby was asked what he’d need to shoot to have a chance to win.

“Tiger Woods,” he replied.

Most of those competing at the 106th edition this week can relate to the sentiment, even if the name has changed. Scottie Scheffler’s intimidation factor isn’t grounded just in wins—four in his last five starts, missing a putt to force a playoff in the one he didn’t claim. Nor is it based on a performance ledger that boasts so many “1’s” you’d assume it’s written in binary code: 1st in Strokes Gained Total, 1st Off the Tee and in Approach, 1st Tee-to-Green and Greens in Regulation, in Birdie Average, in Scoring Average, in FedEx Cup points, in official money ($18,693,235 and counting). He’s probably 1st in the Father of the Year race too, despite having only entered 10 days ago with the birth of his first child, a son named Bennett.

Many athletes have been temporarily thrown for a loop by parenthood, willing to pay a fortune to stay home or have a decent night’s sleep. Scheffler played twice amid feverish speculation about whether he’d withdraw if his wife, Meredith, went into labor. He won both, including the Masters. The PGA Championship is his first start since Bennett arrived. He opened Thursday morning by holing his second shot for eagle on the first hole and went on to card a 67.

Strike fatherhood from the list of things rivals hoped could disrupt Scheffler’s perfectly calibrated life balance.

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What Bennett didn’t do, surely the Louisville Metro Police Department could. On Friday morning, a cop handcuffed Scheffler after an apparent misunderstanding at the entrance of Valhalla when he attempted to navigate around a traffic stop caused by an unrelated fatal accident. It was a surreal incident for a man who has probably been no closer to prison than watching Shawshank Redemption. For a time, it seemed certain to derail his bid for a grand slam, either by a missed tee time or a rattled performance. Instead, he teed off shortly after arriving at the course, birdied his opening hole and shot 66.

Guys in the locker room can strike prison time from the list too, and when that doesn’t work you know there ain’t much left.

Saturday finally saw a chink in the armor. For the third round, Scheffler was without Ted Scott, the caddie who has been on the bag for all 10 of his PGA Tour wins, who was attending his daughter’s high school graduation. Without his regular sherpa, Scheffler turned to Brad Payne, the PGA Tour chaplain.

Changing caddies is a delicate matter for Tour players, even for a day. The cadence of a relationship is impossible to replicate and difficult to replace, even with friends. Payne previously caddied on Tour, so he wasn’t present for just support without illumination, even if his days now are spent trying to save souls rather than strokes.

Scottie Scheffler smiles while waiting to tee off on the fourth hole during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club. (Photo: Matt Stone-USA TODAY Sports)

Scheffler was off all day. He double-bogeyed the 2nd hole, added bogeys at the 3rd and 4th. Three birdies over the next 10 holes were each followed by a dropped shot. He shot 73 and is far off the lead. His hopes for the grand slam are extinguished.

This was a week that didn’t so much change perceptions of Scheffler as reinforce them, even with the mug shot in an orange jumpsuit. Because this was a very Scottie Scheffler scandal. No punches were thrown, no stimulants were involved, and as best we know there weren’t even terse words exchanged. In the aftermath, he hit the right notes. He faced the media, didn’t dodge questions, shared his version of events with humility and humor, and repeatedly expressed sympathy to the family of John Mills, the tournament worker killed in the accident that set events in motion.

While golf likes to contort itself to noble postures, sport is as much about rooting against competitors one dislikes as for those one likes. But the PGA Tour is suffering from a personality deficit since all of the prickly guys were poached by LIV. That’s a gap Scheffler can’t and won’t fill. He’ll never be a guy that folks hate. Heck, he might not even be a guy they love. Mostly just someone they like and admire, even those who don’t cotton to talk about faith. He’s a solid citizen, sober, courteous, thoughtful—basically the type of chap any parent would like their daughter (or son) to bring home.

Whatever spicy side dishes the PGA Tour needs (and they do), they’ll have to source elsewhere. Scheffler is destined to be written up more often in his church bulletin than in the National Enquirer. This week is the exception that proves the rule.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek