Aug 09, 2018: On the first tee at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in mid-November 2013, Jarrod Lyle could feel the tears forming in his eyes. It had been 20 months since he’d played in a competitive golf tournament, and there he was, inside the ropes, family and friends watching him prepare to hit his opening drive in the Talisker Masters, a PGA Tour of Australasia event. Everybody understood the significance of the moment, but kids tend to really bring out the emotion. So, when daughter Lusi, not quite 2, reached out from her mother’s arms to give her dad a hug, Lyle’s vision became blurry.
“That was the end of me, once that happened, I was an absolute mess,” Lyle told the media afterward. “I hit that first tee shot with tears all through my eyes.”
On that overcast day in Melbourne, Lyle had to fight back tears. Then again, fighting was something Lyle had become accustomed to since he received his initial leukemia diagnosis as a teenager. For more than half of his life, Lyle dealt with and fought the disease that begins in the bone marrow cells and spreads through blood. The battle, which lasted nearly 20 years, into adulthood and for a good part of his professional golf career, ended with his death Wednesday at 8:20 p.m. local time at his home in Melbourne, surrounded by his wife and daughters.
Lyle was 36, and while doctors said he was cancer-free, his body had been ravaged by years of medication and just last week he chose to end treatments and leave the hospital.
For weeks, the PGA TOUR community had braced for the awful news, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept.
“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Jarrod Lyle. Jarrod was a true inspiration in the way he faced cancer with a persistently positive attitude and he carried himself with incredible grace, dignity and courage through the recurrences of this relentless disease,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan.
“Despite facing such adversity, Jarrod maintained his passion for golf and continued to pursue his professional career and we were fortunate to have him on the PGA TOUR and Web.com Tour. I’m sure Jarrod’s strength and ability to persevere can be largely attributed to love and devotion to his family, as well as the support of his many friends, including his fellow professionals.
“The entire PGA TOUR family offers our heartfelt sympathy to Jarrod’s wife, Briony, and daughters, Lusi and Jemma. We pledge to them that Jarrod will never be forgotten; we will continue to honor his life and legacy, and that includes helping to support the needs of his family in the months and years to come.”
As a professional golfer and a public figure, Lyle openly lived with his cancer, during both treatments and remission. As a 17-year-old, Lyle generated media attention with his sickness because of the promising golfer he was and because of the relationship he developed with PGA TOUR player and fellow Aussie Robert Allenby. Lyle’s idol, Allenby took an interest in the teenager while Lyle was confined to bed for nine months while undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Royal Children’s Hospital.
Allenby, who was inspired to get heavily involved in a charitable foundation called Challenge Cancer Support Network when a childhood friend died of cancer, provided encouragement to the 17-year-old Lyle to continue pursuing his golf dreams. Though it took him a full year before he had the strength and energy to walk a golf course again, Lyle did Allenby proud. At 20, he accepted a golf scholarship to the Victorian Institute of Sport, which only helped progress his career.
With his cancer in remission, Lyle won the prestigious Lake Macquarie Amateur in Australia in 2003, then he successfully defended in 2004. Lyle turned pro later in ’04 and within a year, people began taking notice when he tied for third at the European Tour’s Heineken Classic in Melbourne, finishing a stroke out of the Craig Parry-Nick O’Hern playoff.
Though he would eventually fade into a share of 22nd, Lyle had acquitted himself nicely in a field that included future PGA TOUR winners such as Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson, Charley Hoffman, Jason Dufner, and fellow Aussie Steven Bowditch, who lost in a playoff to O’Malley that week, but embraced a long-time friendship with Lyle.
“Your fight, courage and demeanor is something that generations will look back at, admired and taught,” Bowditch recently tweeted. “Your legacy will forever live on. Rest easy, mate.”
At 24, Lyle was a professional golfer on the rise and while his 18th-place finish on the Web.com Tour money list brought him a PGA TOUR card for 2007, the real highlight to his ’06 season came when he earned a spot into The Open Championship via an international qualifier. Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, was the venue that summer and while a blistering sun enveloped everyone, it shined brightest on Lyle and his idol, Allenby, as they played a practice round together.
“This is what I want to do. It’s all I wanted to do,” Lyle told a pair of reporters off the 18th green. “I’ve come a long way.”
Down Under, the news was crushing. The cancer had returned, so at 33, Lyle got back into the fight. His unyielding spirit strong as ever, he battled brilliantly and returned to competitive golf at the Talisker Masters in 2013. He played in four Web.com Tour tournaments in 2014, then 10 PGA TOUR stops in 2014-15 and 10 more in 2015-16.
It was a brutal challenge, however, as cancer had sucked away so much of his strength. It just didn’t put a dent in his attitude.
The positive attitude was infectious. You felt honored to be in Lyle’s company, even as you realized the battle he was waging was taking its toll. The PGA TOUR bestowed on Lyle its Courage Award in 2015, only the second time it had presented it to a player (two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton the other). That same year, the Golf Writers Association of America named Lyle the organization’s Ben Hogan Award winner, presented to a person who continues to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness.
It was the third recurrence of the cancer that led to more treatments and ultimately Lyle’s death, though not without more fight. In early December 2017, Lyle once again underwent stem-cell transplant surgery. A month later, the PGA TOUR announced it had launched a fundraising campaign for the Lyle family to help defray costs associated with his treatment, that included a third bone marrow transplant.