The Fighter, Part 3: Career and family take off, until …

By Rex HoggardFebruary 20, 2014, 1:00 pm

SHEPPARTON, Australia – Amid the chaos and controlled mayhem that is the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, John Lyle shouldered his way into the crowded grandstand that rings the 162-yard par 3 to watch another seminal moment in his son’s life.

“A guy sat down beside me and said, ‘Do you know him?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m his dad,’” John Lyle recalled. When Jarrod Lyle’s 8-iron dropped into the hole for an ace, “It was like listening to a Grand Final in Melbourne. The roar was just amazing.”

While the largely inebriated masses that occupy the Birds Nest cheered Lyle’s hole-in-one at the 2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open, John Lyle’s mind raced back more than a decade to the moment his son was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at 17.

Those dark days at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne seemed a lifetime away, visions of a frightened child replaced by a driven man with a singular focus.

Nine months of debilitating chemotherapy and radiation treatments had been endured largely because of Jarrod Lyle’s dogged determination that he would play on the PGA Tour.

“The only thing I thought about was being positive and playing golf again,” Lyle said.

By the time doctors declared Lyle cancer free in 2000 he was already on his way to the game’s grandest stage. A year later, at age 20, he was admitted to the prestigious Victorian Institute of Sport in Melbourne, an intense training program that helped produce some of Australia’s top players, including Geoff Ogilvy and Aaron Baddeley, and he turned professional in 2004.

A year later he transcended the stereotype of a good-natured cancer survivor when he finished third at the Heineken Classic, a European Tour event played at Royal Melbourne.

“For him to go through what he did was amazing,” said Martin Joyce, who attended the VIS with Lyle and is now the director of the institute’s golf program. “It’s the type of personality he has. He doesn’t let too much get to him and just gets on with his own business.”

That no-nonsense personality – born, as with many cancer survivors, from his brush with mortality – helped steady him for what would turn out to be a less than meteoric climb to the PGA Tour.

In 2007 Lyle earned his first trip to the Tour via the Tour but struggled in his rookie season, missing the cut in almost half his starts and finishing 164th in earnings. He would spend the next four years bouncing between the secondary circuit and the Tour with regular stops at Q-School.

By the time he burst into the consciousness of the American golf fan with his raucous ace at TPC Scottsdale in 2011, he was mired in a familiar cycle of missed opportunities and missed cuts.

Throughout it all, however, Lyle’s history provided the benchmark of perspective: “The whole mindset side of things that I had while I was in the hospital of beating cancer and getting myself out there playing golf when I didn’t feel like playing golf,” he said.

“You hit some bad shots that didn’t seem that bad when you think back to where you’ve come from. You get this flashback of the 4-year-old kid that was there next to you in the hospital that was battling cancer the same time as you.”

After another successful trip through Q-School in 2011, Lyle began his fifth year on Tour with surprising consistency. He missed just one cut in his first five starts and closed with a 1-under 70 to tie for fourth at the Northern Trust Open, his best Tour finish in his 100th start.

Although it was early in the season, Lyle was 36th in earnings following the Northern Trust and he flew to Mexico for his next start with renewed optimism.

“It was just so nice to see someone smile from ear to ear,” said Robert Allenby, who befriended Lyle while he was undergoing treatment in 1999 and mentored him through his early years on Tour. “It didn’t matter what happened, you couldn’t take it off his face. He was just so happy to not only be playing a sport he loved but to do it professionally.”

Three months before his tie for fourth in Los Angeles, Lyle had married a former schoolmate, Briony, in a surprise wedding in his hometown of Shepparton. The couple was expecting their first child in March, which was also a surprise considering that doctors had told Lyle he likely couldn’t have children because of the treatments he endured as a teenager.

In late February when Lyle arrived at the Mayakoba Golf Classic flush with confidence 2012 was shaping up to be the best year of his eventful life, with the convergence of a growing family and the competitive reality of a professional career that appeared to have reached a tipping point.

“Yeah, stop there,” Briony Lyle offered with a nervous smile. “If only we could.”

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a tournament.

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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.