[PHOTO: Ross Kinnaird]

Saturday was always going to be the hardest day. Things happened so fast for Scottie Scheffler on Friday at the PGA Championship that after the unbelievable sequence of arrest—>booking—>release–>tee off—>66 had played out, it was still mid-afternoon and he hadn’t had time to breathe… much less to dwell on what must have been the strangest day of his life. But Friday night loomed, and Saturday morning loomed, and the weight of what he’d endured fully settled in. On top of that, this creature of routine was losing his caddie Ted Scott, who was headed home for the day to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. It was the perfect confluence of events – throw in the recent birth of his son for an added factor – and as Luke Kerr-Dineen wrote after his third round, the man with a seemingly limitless capacity for compartmentalisation finally hit the wall.

His 73 on Saturday broke a streak of 42 straight PGA Tour rounds under par, and at this point, we have to entertain the great what-if: what would that day have been like if Scheffler never had been arrested? Not only does this man never shoot over par, but Valhalla is a course that is getting chewed up and spat out by the field. Scheffler’s other rounds this week were 67, 66, and 65. Average those out, give him another 66, and his score for the tournament is seven shots better, at 20-under, good enough to at least be contending for a second straight major title. And it’s not just that his number would be competitive; it’s that if he was among the leaders, they would know he was there, and it would affect them too. He’s become that good. Without having to fend off Scheffler, things were incrementally easier for players like Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hovland trying to win their first major.

It should go without saying that awarding Scheffler a phantom Wanamaker Trophy requires engaging in an unprovable hypothetical, and since we can’t reverse time, we’re limited to speculation. It’s my opinion that he would have won this tournament if the interaction with LMPD Det. Bryan Gillis had never come to pass on Friday morning, but that’s just one man’s opinion. If you respond to that opinion by calling me ridiculous, I’d have a hard time arguing. Given the balance of the evidence, though, you’d have to be willfully obstinate not accept the argument that we can attribute a major part of his difficult third round to the delayed, stressful fallout to the arrest.

Because Scheffler is Scheffler, we have to make this argument for him; he’s not going to make it himself. The most he’d say on Saturday to Amanda Balionis on the CBS broadcast was, “I was definitely not feeling like myself today, for sure.” In remarks on Friday, he never said a bad word about anyone, and in fact praised the members of the LMPD who he dealt with after the initial altercation. If reports that all charges are going to be dropped sooner rather than later turn out to be true, and there’s no bodycam footage to make things worse for him, it’s a good bet that we won’t hear much from him on the substance of events of Friday morning. As in, ever. He’ll be eager to leave it behind him, he’ll be advised to avoid saying anything that could dredge it up again, and in terms of speculating about the event, he’s not the kind of person who would diminish the accomplishment of the eventual winner by claiming it should have been him.

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But frankly, there’s a really good argument that it should have been him. Not definitely, maybe not even probably, but at least possibly. The fact that he fought his way back into the top ten anyway is just more proof of his staggering physical and mental abilities, and it makes the hypothetical even more pressing.

Returning to the realm of actual events, though, we can say this much for Scheffler: barring any late-breaking revelations on the incident Friday morning, the world No.1 golfer has come out of this about as well as can be imagined. If your inclination is to believe that he was wronged by an overzealous officer, he has your sympathies. If your instinct is to sympathise with law enforcement, he’ll have endeared himself by refusing to demonise anyone within the police department. And if you aren’t thinking about it politically at all, you’ll be impressed by his fortitude, his resilience, and his grace in a bizarre, impossible situation. This wasn’t the victory he imagined in Louisville, but it’s a victory nonetheless.

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Still, the question of what might have been is too poignant to ignore. There are more important things in this world, and in many ways it feels misguided to be fixating on Scheffler’s plight when a man lost his life that same morning, but we’re in the business of covering professional golf, and the way his chance for the second leg of the Grand Slam was denied by outside forces has a way of sticking in the brain. What Scheffler accomplishes next could well overshadow the events of this week, but for now, none of us will be able to resist wondering what might have happened in the rain and the darkness on Friday morning if he had never pulled into the other lane, or if a different person had been standing there in the yellow vest, or if his tee-time had been in the afternoon, or if events had played out any other way than how they actually did.

The strange twists of life – Scottie Scheffler in the back of a police car on Friday morning at a major – are as irreversible today as they have been forever, but it’s never stopped us from writing alternate histories in our minds. And in some of those imaginary narratives, including the one playing on the projector in my head, Scottie Scheffler never wore an orange jumpsuit, never stretched inside a cell, and never ate a jailhouse sandwich for breakfast. Instead, he had an ordinary Friday, and on Sunday he strolled down the 18th fairway, waved to his fans, and continued the march to greatness that, at least in the confines of the golf course, felt truly unstoppable.