SHEPPARTON, MELBOURNE – If, as philosophy professors claim, life is no more than a collection of moments large and small, Jarrod Lyle’s tale is one of emotional riches.
Lyle’s ride begins in a nondescript room on the third floor of the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital just before the turn of the century. Every day for nine months Lyle’s mother, Sally, would greet each morning and fill the room with the same simple question.
When I sat with Jarrod in the hospital for nine months the whole time I’d walk in and say, ‘Have you beaten it today?,’” said Sally Lyle, the prototypical matriarch of a strong Australian family. “And he would say, ‘Yes.’ That’s what we said every day for nine months.”
The battle raging within Jarrod’s body was far more merciless and menacing than anything he’d ever faced growing up on the playing fields of sleepy Shepparton. In 1999, at age 17, Lyle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
A few days earlier, Lyle had taken a fall playing football with some friends. A bruise almost immediately emerged on his shoulder and continued to grow. The next day as Sally was dropping Lyle, his brother Leighton, and sister Karly, off at school, Jarrod nearly passed out from the pain and the two rushed to see their local doctor.
It was the first glimpse of the helplessness and horror to come.
As I took my shirt off to show (the doctor) this bruise you could see something in his eye that sort of clicked and I thought that’s not a very good look in his eye,” Lyle recalled.
Before the sun set, Lyle and his family were on their way to Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital some 100 miles to the west where doctors confirmed the onset of leukemia and immediately began treatments.
The blow to the entire family was immediate. Lyle, described by family and friends as quiet and accommodating with a mischievous side, was already well over 6 feet tall and had easily taken to golf over cricket and football.
At 7 years old, Lyle would wait for his father, John, on the 15th tee at Shepparton Golf Club and would caddie down the stretch before heading back out onto the tree-lined layout with his father’s clubs.
He set the course record at “Shep” as a junior – a mark that was later bested by his brother Leighton – and was a regular on the country teams that make up the core of amateur golf in Australia. It was this love for the game that became his singular focus on May 13, 1999, as he made the long, silent drive to Melbourne to begin his nine-month bout with leukemia.
Predictably, fear set in following the initial diagnosis; Fear of the unknown; Fear of a disease that had just one connotation – death.
I burst into tears and thought I didn’t even really know what leukemia was,” Lyle said. “You associate cancer with death because it’s all you ever hear. You know, such and such died from cancer.”
But then Sally Lyle doesn’t tolerate negativity. If you’re not looking forward, you’re wasting valuable time and energy. It is a trait that likely led Jarrod to confide in John Lyle in the dark moments immediately following the initial diagnosis. “Why me?” Jarrod asked his father.
It was a moment of self-indulgent wallowing that would set the standard not just for the next nine months but for a lifetime filled with equal parts adversity and achievement.
That was probably the only time he said anything like that through the whole nine months of his treatment,” John Lyle said. “It was just one little instance and the rest of it was just he was looking forward to beating it.”
With time Jarrod’s resolve to win each day’s battle strengthened and within a month doctors had declared him “cancer free.” There were more debilitating bouts with chemotherapy and sleepless nights, but it was always golf that drove him to the next day, to the next battle.
Even while he endured the ravages of chemotherapy, Lyle not only continued to play but his game improved. He won a junior event while still in treatment and even represented his district in an annual “Country Week” event the day after a particularly debilitating bone marrow test and a lumbar puncture.
I actually dropped my handicap from 4 to 1 while I was in treatment,” Lyle boasted.
That singular devotion was nurtured even more when Lyle’s idol, four-time PGA Tour winner Robert Allenby, visited him in the hospital. When Allenby, who had been an ambassador for the Challenge support network for children with cancer, arrived announced Lyle’s reaction was priceless. “Oh shit,” Lyle stammered.
From that meeting a friendship was forged and Lyle’s drive was focused even more. Beating cancer was no longer the ultimate goal, replaced instead by a more profound desire to join Allenby on the PGA Tour one day.
Jarrod always had a good swing,” Allenby said. “But he had a mind that was the strongest part of his game and because of what he had gone through with the cancer that enabled him to have a strength that could make him not just a good golfer but a great golfer.”
For nine months Sally Lyle’s daily message gave her son a reason to remain resolute, but it was the 17-year-old’s desire to continue down a suddenly clear path, an avenue that would ultimately lead him to the game’s grandest stage, that made each day worth fighting.
His love of the game came out of that and every chance he got he was out here at the golf course playing and practicing and doing those sorts of things,” John Lyle recalled.
He wanted to win each day not for the sake of the victory, but for the chance to fulfill his dream of playing on Tour. It was a distinction and a direction that would ultimately define all the moments to come.