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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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.