The Fighter, Part 4: An old disease, a new inspiration

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2014, 10:38 am

SHEPPARTON, Australia – As best he could tell, it was a bug bite. Maybe it was a pimple.

Either way, at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Jarrod Lyle has never been prone to bouts of hypochondria and, as is the Australian way, he just got on with it.

Riding high following his best finish on the PGA Tour a few weeks earlier at the Northern Trust Open and poised for the birth of his first child, Lyle finished the 2012 Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico with a 2-under 69 to tie for 37th place.

It would be Lyle’s last round on the Tour.

“I couldn’t straighten my arm,” remembered Lyle, his mind racing back to the seemingly innocent moment.

Lyle returned to Orlando, Fla., his American base since joining the Tour in 2007, and went straight to a local hospital, where doctors diagnosed the “pimple” as an abscess and gave him a prescription for antibiotics.

At the time it seemed like a blessing in disguise. Because the infection made it difficult for Lyle to swing a golf club, he withdrew from the upcoming Honda Classic and flew home to Australia a week early to see his expectant wife and prepare for the birth of Lusi Joy, a daughter who would become his daily inspiration for the difficult months to come.

Lyle had survived a bout with acute myeloid leukemia as a 17-year-old in 1999, an omnipresent reality that necessitated a precautionary trip to his doctor when he arrived home in Shepparton, a cozy country town about 90 minutes northeast of Melbourne.

It was March 7, 2012, when Lyle and his wife, Briony, settled in front of a television to watch a video of their wedding. Lyle was talking with a childhood friend, Graham Makepeace, when fate came calling again.

“We were just talking and laughing and in the background you could hear the tone coming through on his phone. Obviously someone was trying to get ahold of him and he just dismissed it,” Makepeace recalled. “He said, ‘No, it’ll be all right.’ And I said, ‘Look, mate, someone is really trying to get ahold of you.’”

Dr. Paul O’Dwyer, who had originally diagnosed Lyle with leukemia in 1999, tried to call Lyle three times. Finally he tried Briony, who put Lyle on the phone.

O’Dwyer’s words still echo in Lyle’s consciousness: “Jarrod, it’s Paul. Your cancer is back.”

“I put the phone down, looked at (Briony) and said ‘My cancer’s back’ and burst into tears,” Lyle said.

The cosmic rub is that Lyle can’t produce tears, the byproduct of his initial bout with leukemia and endless rounds of chemotherapy, but then the burly Lyle has never been guarded with his emotions.

Having endured, and won, his initial bout with the disease, the threat of a relapse always loomed for Lyle, but after more than a decade of cancer-free living he allowed himself to move beyond the fear. But in the moment it took to answer the phone he was transported back 13 years to a darker time.

“One minute he’s swearing and having a great time, having a laugh with this friend and the next moment . . . the change couldn’t have been any more drastic,” Briony said. “One minute he’s a 30-year-old expectant father and the next minute he was a child again and just looking for someone to help him.”

Within hours Lyle was on his way to Melbourne, a sobering déjà vu moment along the same desolate highway he’d taken during his first bout with cancer. By the time Briony, who was 8 ½ months pregnant, arrived at the hospital the next day doctors were preparing him for his first round of chemotherapy.

Doctors also had some bad news. The baby couldn’t be exposed to the toxins produced by chemotherapy; therefore Jarrod could not be there for Lusi’s birth. Nor could he hold her.

For Briony, that was not acceptable.

During Lyle’s first bout with leukemia it was golf that drove him through the debilitating treatments and endless tests. His dream to someday play the PGA Tour was there at every checkup and he continued to compete through the worst of his recovery. If he were going to survive the second time, he needed something more.

“My focus immediately was on getting Jarrod to the birth because I couldn’t control anything that happened after that, but I knew he wanted to be there and he needed to be there,” Briony recalled. “He needed to see something for him to hold on to. To know what he was fighting for.”

Briony persuaded her pediatrician to induce labor on March 11 so Lyle could attend the birth, but his doctors balked, insisting that he start chemotherapy treatments immediately.

After dozens of phone calls, Briony found a doctor who would delay Lyle’s treatments – renowned hematologist Jeff Szer at Royal Melbourne Hospital – and four days later, just past 11 p.m. on March 11 in Shepparton, Lyle was holding Lusi.

For just over 12 hours he held her surrounded by family and friends.

“Not one of them got to hold her,” Lyle smiled. “Whether that was selfish or not I couldn’t care less because I just didn’t think that I would ever hold her again, so the whole time not one of them asked. I just sat in the chair and held her.”

At noon on March 12 Lyle climbed back into his car to make the silent drive to Melbourne and begin a fight he had no intention of losing.

A pragmatist at heart, Lyle knew what was to come and the diminishing odds associated with a relapse. He knew there was a chance that Lusi would grow up without a father, but he was at peace with that.

“I just didn’t care about me,” he said. “For me being able to be there and see her born and see her as a spitting image of me, all of a sudden that fear of death that came over me disappeared.”

His PGA Tour dreams had pulled him through the first time, but now he had something much more precious to fight for.

“I didn’t want it to happen,” he allowed through a wash of emotion when asked if he ever considered his own mortality. “That’s where the old fighting instinct of Jarrod Lyle came out and tried everything that I could to make sure that didn’t happen.”

The fighter who had forged his way from cancer survivor to PGA Tour player was back, paired this time with the singular focus of fatherhood.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x