The Fighter, Part 5: A new beginning

By Rex HoggardFebruary 22, 2014, 11:14 am

SHEPPARTON, Australia – Two stinky bags of blood. That’s what this boiled down to. Well, that and love and hope and the pragmatic genius of a no-nonsense hematologist with a Diet Coke habit.

The medical mystery, or miracle, depending on one’s view, began with a pleading phone call from Briony Lyle in the panicked hours following news that her husband, Jarrod, had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia for the second time in his relatively young life.

Initially doctors wanted Lyle to begin chemotherapy treatments immediately, but Briony, 8 ½ months pregnant with the couple’s first child, was committed to getting her husband to the birth, which would not have been possible after he began treatments because of the toxins caused by chemotherapy and the potential danger to the newborn.

“I’m just sitting there going, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do?’” Jarrod Lyle recalled. “I was torn between do I start my chemo or do I put my life at risk and go see the best thing that’s ever happened to me happen?”

Thanks to Jeff Szer, a renowned hematologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital, Lyle didn’t have to decide. After listening to Briony’s plea, Szer delayed Lyle’s treatments to allow him to attend the birth of Lusi Joy on March 11, 2012, and promptly began the healing process 12 hours later.

In 1999, at the age of 17, Lyle had survived his first bout with leukemia, and because of the rigors endured by his body during that first engagement with the disease the only treatment option available for the 30-year-old was a stem-cell, or bone-marrow, transplant. The odds were not in his favor.

“He didn’t want them (the survival rates following a relapse), but he got them,” Szer said. “But an old teacher of mine said statistics are irrelevant at the bedside. Everything is 50/50 – it either will happen or it won’t.”

For the second time in his life Lyle was subjected to debilitating chemotherapy treatments. All told, it took two rounds of chemo and an additional treatment of radiation to rid his body of the cancer, which was required before he could receive his stem-cell transplant.

That pain, however, was trivial compared with his inability to hold Lusi.

“I would sit there during the day while I was having chemotherapy and would just look at my phone for hours, just staring at the picture I had taken thinking to myself, ‘This little girl is going to save my life and she doesn’t know it,’ ” Lyle said.

“The chemotherapy didn’t compare to the feeling of not being able to hold your daughter. They could have stuck 10,000 needles in me and it wouldn’t have hurt as much as not being able to hold your daughter.”

During his initial bout with leukemia as a teenager it was golf, and the dream of someday playing the PGA Tour, that drove Lyle from one day to the next. During Round 2, however, the inspiration was much more visceral.

Being a father, more so than returning to the PGA Tour, drove him; but through the darkest hours the game still called.

From Room 7 in the Bone Marrow Transplant Ward at Royal Melbourne Hospital, a nondescript enclave with an unobstructed view of an alley and a single chair for visitors, Lyle stayed connected to the game as best he could. He’d brought three putters to the hospital and an 8-foot putting mat. “I made 22 8-footers in a row one day and that was the record,” he smiled.

Throughout his treatment, however, it was Lusi who gave him the daily inspiration to soldier on, to fixate on the outcome and not the painful treatments and the uncertainty of the stem-cell transplant.

“Lusi was like a little shining star in the room,” said Kath White, the nurse unit manager of the transplant ward. “Jarrod was very much alight when Lusi was here.”

For Briony, essentially a single mother whose life had been uprooted by Lyle’s diagnoses and transplanted to a small apartment a block from the hospital, the progress was measured in the simplest terms and the very sobering reality of living from blood test to blood test.

At one point during treatment, a group of Lyle’s friends and fellow Tour players, including childhood hero Robert Allenby, offered to hold a tournament in memory of Lyle if the treatments failed, but she never allowed herself to succumb to the doubts.

“They wanted to know the answer without actually asking it blatantly, ‘Is he going to die?’ ” she recalled.

But the cancer finally receded and Lyle was put on the clock for a stem-cell transplant. Because of his size, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, and the fact they could not find an adult donor who was a proper match, Lyle needed umbilical-cord blood from two donors to provide enough stem cells. Matches were found from two infant girls, one from the United States and the other from Germany.

Scientifically, it took 18 units of red blood cells and 102 platelets to complete the transfusion. But to the untrained eye it was difficult to comprehend how two bags of blood could save Lyle’s life.

“They were just hanging there, these bags of red blood and in it goes and it stank,” Briony remembered. “It was really smelly and he stank for a few days afterwards.”

Thirty days after Lyle received the transplant, doctors informed him that he was “100 percent donor,” transformed medically, DNA and all, into a cancer-free survivor thanks to the stem cells from the German infant.

“Whoever that little girl is in Germany, thank you,” Lyle said. “I think that’s where my love of beer has been rekindled.”

The call every cancer patient awaits came late, in May 2013. Szer was supposed to update Lyle on the most recent round of tests promptly at 5 p.m. An hour later, Lyle had become panicked and decided he couldn’t wait anymore. He called his doctor.

“He goes, ‘You’re cancer free.’ I just hung the phone up and burst into tears because I was so happy to hear that nothing nasty was in my body anymore,” Lyle said through a wave of emotion. “That was the first time that Lusi had seen me cry and I guess she could understand what I was feeling and she ran across the bedroom and picked up her little monkey and gave me the monkey.”

There were still treatments to endure and an ongoing round of graft-versus-host disease, a complication that Szer explains is normal in stem-cell transplants and easily treatable. But the Lyles slowly settled into a new house in Torquay, about an hour west of Melbourne along the Bass Strait, with a new lease on life.

In his signature practical style, Szer conceded that the chances of survival if there were to be another relapse “are very small.” But he estimates the odds of that happening more than a year after a transplant are minimal.

On June 8, 2013, a year after receiving the bone-marrow transplant that rid his body of leukemia, the Lyles gathered to celebrate a birthday complete with all the trimmings from a tricycle to a Superman onesie. With the aid of modern science and an unknown German infant, Jarrod Lyle had just turned 1 year old.

“That’s the day he got his life back,” said Briony, who had the date of Lyle’s transplant and his initials, JBL, tattooed on her left wrist. “He was essentially starting over.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.