The recent PGA Championship was a rollercoaster of emotions, filled with thrilling competition and unexpected controversies that captivated golf fans and delivered significant television ratings for CBS Sports and ESPN (per SB Nation's Jack Milko). Amid the excitement of Xander Schauffele's maiden major victory, the tournament was overshadowed by the shocking arrest of one of golf’s brightest stars, Scottie Scheffler. His legal troubles added a layer of intrigue to an already memorable event.

Scottie Scheffler, the world's top-ranked golfer, was arrested early Friday morning during the PGA Championship, and is facing charges that have rocked the golf community. The incident occurred near the tournament venue, where Scheffler allegedly ‘assaulted' a police officer. In addition to the felony charge of assaulting a police officer to the second degree, Scheffler faces three misdemeanors: criminal mischief to the third degree, reckless driving, and disregarding signals of a police officer.

The arrest happened at 7:28 a.m. ET on Friday, May 17, according to the Louisville Metro Police Department of Corrections. Despite this legal turmoil, Scheffler was released quickly enough to make his Friday morning tee time, arriving at Valhalla at 9:11 a.m. ET, just 57 minutes before starting his second round. Remarkably, Scheffler managed to shoot a 5-under 66 that day, though the emotional toll of his arrest was evident as he struggled the following day, posting a 2-over 74 in the third round.

Scheffler’s arraignment has been rescheduled to Monday, June 3, the same week as the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. His attorney, Steve Romines, indicated that Scheffler must appear in court and dispelled rumors about the charges being dismissed. “I’ve been defending criminal cases for 30 years and have learned to never be surprised,” Romines stated. “Whoever reported [the charges] were going to be dismissed was not accurate.”

PGA Championship Drama and Ratings Surge

Scheffler walks off green
Matt Stone-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the off-course drama, the PGA Championship delivered some of the most riveting golf action in recent memory. Xander Schauffele’s triumph, characterized by his steady composure and skill under pressure, was a highlight. The final round on Sunday saw Schauffele fend off a fierce challenge from Bryson DeChambeau, capturing the attention of millions.

CBS Sports reported an average of 4.958 million viewers for the final round, marking a 10% increase from last year’s championship. The peak viewership hit 8.421 million during the climactic moments on the par-5 18th hole, where Schauffele's birdie secured his victory and set a new major championship scoring record at 21-under-par.

The final hour of the broadcast, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. ET, was particularly gripping. DeChambeau’s dramatic shots, including a fortunate break off a tree on the 16th hole that led to a birdie, kept viewers on the edge of their seats. His subsequent birdie on the 18th hole drew comparisons to Phil Mickelson’s memorable PGA Championship win three years earlier.

Viktor Hovland, another fan favorite, also contended for the title but ultimately fell short with a bogey on the closing hole. The high-stakes competition and the presence of popular players contributed significantly to the ratings surge.

The excitement extended beyond traditional television. Paramount+, CBS Sports' streaming service, saw double-digit year-over-year growth in households, minutes watched, and the average minute audience. This digital engagement highlights the evolving ways fans are consuming sports content.

The PGA Championship’s strong performance in the ratings is especially notable given the competition from other major sports events. On the same day, the NBA featured two Game 7 matchups. The Indiana Pacers' victory over the New York Knicks on ABC drew 6.45 million viewers, a 24% decline from the previous year. The lopsided nature of the game likely contributed to the higher viewership for the golf tournament. Later that evening, the Timberwolves' win over the defending champion Denver Nuggets also took place, but the golf drama managed to hold its own.

Friday’s second round saw ESPN draw an average of 1.6 million viewers, an 18% increase from the same round in 2023. The coverage, which included updates on Scheffler’s arrest and the on-course action, peaked with two million viewers during the 6 to 6:15 p.m. ET quarter-hour.

The arrest of Scottie Scheffler undoubtedly added an unexpected layer of intrigue to the event. Viewers tuned in not only for the golf but also for updates on the unfolding situation. ESPN's telecast received praise for its balanced coverage, which kept the focus on the competition while addressing the off-course controversy with the appropriate gravity.

The PGA Championship’s success is a significant win for men’s professional golf, particularly in a year where television ratings have been challenging. The increased viewership for this major tournament contrasts with the struggles seen during other events, including The Masters. The combination of thrilling competition, memorable moments, and unexpected drama has reinvigorated interest in the sport.

Looking ahead, there is optimism that this trend will continue with the upcoming U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. NBC Sports will broadcast the third major of the year, and fans are eagerly anticipating another display of top-tier golf and possibly more surprises.

The 2024 PGA Championship will be remembered not only for Xander Schauffele's remarkable victory and the thrilling drama on the course but also for the shocking arrest of Scottie Scheffler. The combination of these elements led to a significant ratings boost for CBS Sports and ESPN, highlighting the enduring appeal of golf when high-stakes competition and unexpected storylines converge.

As the golf world looks forward to the U.S. Open, the hope is that the momentum from the PGA Championship will carry over, continuing to draw viewers and engage fans. For Scottie Scheffler, the focus will be on navigating the legal and personal repercussions of his arrest while striving to return to form on the golf course. For now, the PGA Championship has set a high bar for excitement and viewer engagement in 2024.