The Fighter, Part 1: Short walk, long journey

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2014, 12:00 pm

SHEPPARTON, Australia – For a man who has made more than his share of emotional walks in an eventful life, the 150 odd yards from the makeshift practice range to the first tee at Royal Melbourne Golf Club was every bit the seminal stroll.

Jarrod Lyle may have covered more meaningful ground in his 32 years, from his lonely trips down endless hospital corridors to his dogged quest to play the PGA Tour, but in terms of emotional capital the turf leading to Royal Melbourne’s opening hole was wrought with distractions.

November’s Australian Masters was Lyle’s sentimental return to competitive golf following his second bought with leukemia. The inner competitor didn’t stand a chance as he passed through a frenzied crowd – many of whom were donned in Lyle’s signature bright yellow shirts – on his way to another emotional milestone.

Amid the afternoon gloom and anticipation, Geoff Ogilvy and Brendon de Jonge, his playing partners for the first two rounds, avoided eye contact with Lyle. They didn’t want to succumb to the enormity of the moment as Lyle nervously paced around the tee box.

As if on cue, Lusi Joy, Lyle’s 1 ½ year old daughter who had been his solace and a singular source of inspiration over the previous 18 months, broke the silence with an angelic “Daddy.”

Lusi had been there through the darkest of days. She was there after each round of chemotherapy when the threat of radiation poisoning robbed Lyle of the one thing he wanted most in the world – to hold his daughter. She was there the day Lyle’s doctor called to tell him he was cancer free, and rode shotgun in a golf cart to his home course when Lyle finally allowed himself to imagine playing golf again.

It was only apropos that she would be in the front row when Lyle returned to competition.

“I was just standing there and heard Lusi call out and figured I have to find her and give her one last cuddle,” Lyle said following a first-round 72 that surprised everyone, even Lyle. “It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of to have my daughter at a golf tournament. I don’t know how I did it with tears in my eyes. I don’t really care where the tee shot went, it was in the rough, but I don’t care.”

There was a time, not that long ago, when Lyle didn’t really care if he ever played competitive golf again, and that was fine.

In March 2012 Lyle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia for the second time. He'd beaten the disease and the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy as a teenager and went on to defy the odds when he earned his PGA Tour card in 2007.

It’s never easy to learn that your own body has turned on you, which is essentially how leukemia kills, but for Lyle the news took a particularly gut-wrenching toll. Lyle and his wife Briony were expecting the couple’s first child, Lusi, within days of the diagnosis and, despite concerns from some on his medical team, he delayed the start of treatments so he could be there for the birth.

Throughout it all, Lyle’s focus remained on Lusi, not golf.

“I felt early on that golf wasn’t that important to him,” said Jeff Szer, Lyle’s hematologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital. “But now it’s different. It’s difficult to take golf out of the man.”

The fire to play again returned but at a particularly languid pace.

On June 8, 2012, Lyle received a bone-marrow transplant that swept his body clean of leukemia and, as his health and stamina improved, so did his outlook on golf until his interest was truly piqued by a DVD that arrived from America.

Tripp Isenhour, Golf Channel analyst and longtime friend of Lyle’s dating back to the duo’s days on the Tour, asked more than 80 Tour players, equipment representatives and caddies to send messages to Lyle, including Phil Mickelson and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton.

“It lasted 42 minutes and I cried for 42 minutes,” Lyle said of the DVD.

In February 2013, nearly a year after being diagnosed the second time, Lyle loaded Lusi into a golf cart for the short drive to his home course in Torquay, Australia. He hit two drives off the first tee, both off the neck of the club and both into the fairway, had to collect Lusi after she’d tumbled into a greenside bunker and returned home after nine holes with a surprisingly upbeat assessment.

“He came through the door and said ‘Pack your bags, we’re going to America,’ ” laughed Briony. “He was that sure that his form was back from nine holes.”

A few rounds later he was back on the same roller coaster every professional rides. “All it took was for him to play a second round and walk through the door and say, ‘It’s alright, unpack your bags,’ ” Briony said.

With time, and a healthy amount of patience, Lyle’s good rounds started to outnumber the bad. His mind drifted to the Australian Masters at Royal Melbourne, where he’d played much of his amateur golf and the site of his professional breakthrough when he tied for third place at the 2005 Heineken Open.

In the days prior to the Australian Masters it wasn’t his game, or the emotional wave that awaited him on the first tee, that worried Lyle so much as his lack of stamina.

Lyle had walked 18 holes for four consecutive days just twice before his return and that was back home in Torquay where he was free of the emotional drain that was to come.

“It was like I’d run a marathon after I’d walk 18 holes,” Lyle said. “I’d get home and my legs would be really heavy and during the night you’d cramp up. I felt like I’d just done 10 rounds with (Mike) Tyson.”

But his body and game would deliver at Royal Melbourne; his second-round 71 left him tied for 36th after 36 holes. The enormity of the moment caught up with him on Sunday when he struggled to a closing 79 to tie for 57th. But if the results were not exactly what he expected, the significance of the moment was not clouded by the outcome.

“There were about 15 times today that all I could hear out of the crowd was Lusi going, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,’ ” Lyle said. “It was great to have her here and everybody else walking around and just relish the opportunity.”

The two-time cancer survivor has endured a lifetime of difficult walks, but none as emotional as his first steps back to professional golf.

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.