The Fighter, Part 1: Short walk, long journey

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2014, 12:00 pm

SHEPPARTON, Australia – For a man who has made more than his share of emotional walks in an eventful life, the 150 odd yards from the makeshift practice range to the first tee at Royal Melbourne Golf Club was every bit the seminal stroll.

Jarrod Lyle may have covered more meaningful ground in his 32 years, from his lonely trips down endless hospital corridors to his dogged quest to play the PGA Tour, but in terms of emotional capital the turf leading to Royal Melbourne’s opening hole was wrought with distractions.

November’s Australian Masters was Lyle’s sentimental return to competitive golf following his second bought with leukemia. The inner competitor didn’t stand a chance as he passed through a frenzied crowd – many of whom were donned in Lyle’s signature bright yellow shirts – on his way to another emotional milestone.

Amid the afternoon gloom and anticipation, Geoff Ogilvy and Brendon de Jonge, his playing partners for the first two rounds, avoided eye contact with Lyle. They didn’t want to succumb to the enormity of the moment as Lyle nervously paced around the tee box.

As if on cue, Lusi Joy, Lyle’s 1 ½ year old daughter who had been his solace and a singular source of inspiration over the previous 18 months, broke the silence with an angelic “Daddy.”

Lusi had been there through the darkest of days. She was there after each round of chemotherapy when the threat of radiation poisoning robbed Lyle of the one thing he wanted most in the world – to hold his daughter. She was there the day Lyle’s doctor called to tell him he was cancer free, and rode shotgun in a golf cart to his home course when Lyle finally allowed himself to imagine playing golf again.

It was only apropos that she would be in the front row when Lyle returned to competition.

“I was just standing there and heard Lusi call out and figured I have to find her and give her one last cuddle,” Lyle said following a first-round 72 that surprised everyone, even Lyle. “It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of to have my daughter at a golf tournament. I don’t know how I did it with tears in my eyes. I don’t really care where the tee shot went, it was in the rough, but I don’t care.”

There was a time, not that long ago, when Lyle didn’t really care if he ever played competitive golf again, and that was fine.

In March 2012 Lyle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia for the second time. He'd beaten the disease and the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy as a teenager and went on to defy the odds when he earned his PGA Tour card in 2007.

It’s never easy to learn that your own body has turned on you, which is essentially how leukemia kills, but for Lyle the news took a particularly gut-wrenching toll. Lyle and his wife Briony were expecting the couple’s first child, Lusi, within days of the diagnosis and, despite concerns from some on his medical team, he delayed the start of treatments so he could be there for the birth.

Throughout it all, Lyle’s focus remained on Lusi, not golf.

“I felt early on that golf wasn’t that important to him,” said Jeff Szer, Lyle’s hematologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital. “But now it’s different. It’s difficult to take golf out of the man.”

The fire to play again returned but at a particularly languid pace.

On June 8, 2012, Lyle received a bone-marrow transplant that swept his body clean of leukemia and, as his health and stamina improved, so did his outlook on golf until his interest was truly piqued by a DVD that arrived from America.

Tripp Isenhour, Golf Channel analyst and longtime friend of Lyle’s dating back to the duo’s days on the Tour, asked more than 80 Tour players, equipment representatives and caddies to send messages to Lyle, including Phil Mickelson and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton.

“It lasted 42 minutes and I cried for 42 minutes,” Lyle said of the DVD.

In February 2013, nearly a year after being diagnosed the second time, Lyle loaded Lusi into a golf cart for the short drive to his home course in Torquay, Australia. He hit two drives off the first tee, both off the neck of the club and both into the fairway, had to collect Lusi after she’d tumbled into a greenside bunker and returned home after nine holes with a surprisingly upbeat assessment.

“He came through the door and said ‘Pack your bags, we’re going to America,’ ” laughed Briony. “He was that sure that his form was back from nine holes.”

A few rounds later he was back on the same roller coaster every professional rides. “All it took was for him to play a second round and walk through the door and say, ‘It’s alright, unpack your bags,’ ” Briony said.

With time, and a healthy amount of patience, Lyle’s good rounds started to outnumber the bad. His mind drifted to the Australian Masters at Royal Melbourne, where he’d played much of his amateur golf and the site of his professional breakthrough when he tied for third place at the 2005 Heineken Open.

In the days prior to the Australian Masters it wasn’t his game, or the emotional wave that awaited him on the first tee, that worried Lyle so much as his lack of stamina.

Lyle had walked 18 holes for four consecutive days just twice before his return and that was back home in Torquay where he was free of the emotional drain that was to come.

“It was like I’d run a marathon after I’d walk 18 holes,” Lyle said. “I’d get home and my legs would be really heavy and during the night you’d cramp up. I felt like I’d just done 10 rounds with (Mike) Tyson.”

But his body and game would deliver at Royal Melbourne; his second-round 71 left him tied for 36th after 36 holes. The enormity of the moment caught up with him on Sunday when he struggled to a closing 79 to tie for 57th. But if the results were not exactly what he expected, the significance of the moment was not clouded by the outcome.

“There were about 15 times today that all I could hear out of the crowd was Lusi going, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,’ ” Lyle said. “It was great to have her here and everybody else walking around and just relish the opportunity.”

The two-time cancer survivor has endured a lifetime of difficult walks, but none as emotional as his first steps back to professional golf.

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Paisley (61) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”

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Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:01 pm

ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.

Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.

Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.

Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”

Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.

“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.