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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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.