‘Free Scottie!’: Scheffler rebounds to post a spectacular closing round at PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 18: Fans wears Scottie Scheffler mugshot t-shirts in front of Louisville Metro Police officers following Scheffler's group during the third round of the PGA Championship, May 18, 2024, at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.(Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fans wear Scottie Scheffler mugshot t-shirts in front of Louisville Metro Police officers following Scheffler’s group during the third round of the PGA Championship. (Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — If you want to whip up some instant popularity in golf these days, forget about winning two green jackets in three years. Just go do a stint behind bars and you’ll be one of the most popular guys in the field.

Scottie Scheffler marched his way through a typically magnificent round on Sunday at the PGA Championship, barely 50 hours after being released from a Louisville jail for a misunderstanding-turned-calamity involving a police officer.

Were it not for a tough three-hole stretch during Saturday’s round, the perfectly-expected comedown from Friday’s chaos even for a guy who hadn’t carded an over-par round since last August, Scheffler would be comfortably battling for the lead in the PGA Championship and looking to complete a Grand Slam. Instead, Sunday’s 6-under 65 merely moved him into the top 10 in yet another major, but left him five strokes (for now) behind leader Xander Schauffele.

The vast gulf between Scheffler’s image and his mug shot has driven much of the swirl of fandom around him. If you were going to make a list of the most likely players in the 156-man field to end up in jail, Scheffler would have been No. 156. (We’ll let you guess No. 1.) Scheffler is devout without being preachy, a devoted husband and now father, a guy who just quietly goes about his business … and that business happens to be “decimating an entire sport.”

That blank-slate demeanor hasn’t given galleries much to grasp. He’s not as demonstrative as Justin Thomas, not as outwardly weird as Bryson DeChambeau, not as jock-tough as Brooks Koepka. He simply does exactly what he did on Sunday — pour in birdies one on top of the other, with a relentless and numbing excellence that breaks the spirit of his playing partners and challengers.

If there’s one thing golf fans love, it’s an easy joke to shout. “Get in the hole” is a recurring theme, and so are “Baba Booey” and “Light the candle.” So you can bet your quarter-zip that when galleries have the opportunity to shout something easy like “Free Scottie,” they’re going to do it over and over and over. Fifty years from now, when Scheffler hits the ceremonial tee shot to begin the 2074 Masters, somebody there is going to yell “Free Scottie,” long after anyone there remembers what it means.

“Free Scottie”? That’s the last thing the rest of the field wants. As it is, it’s looking like the only way to guarantee Scheffler won’t be in contention at majors is to get him locked up for longer than just a couple hours.