Jarrod Lyle: A Winner In Life And GolfMarch 24, 2007
By Dave Lagarde PGA TOUR.com Correspondent
Forget for a moment that Jarrod Lyle is a professional golfer, loving every moment of his rookie season on the PGA TOUR. And forgive the easy going Australian for feeling like he has the world on a string while sitting on a rainbow.
That simply is just the way it is when, like Lyle, you're already a big winner in the game of life. See, it wasn't that long ago when Lyle was living on borrowed time, confined to a bed in Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, wondering whether his time might be up.
Those aren't exactly the thoughts one would expect to go racing through the highly impressionable mind of a 17-year-old. But most 17-year-olds will never be diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Lyle was and frankly, it was time to face reality with the same kind of uncommon courage that Lyle accepted those debilitating chemotherapy treatments that destroyed his killer cancer cells.
"That first week was pure hell, just the worst time,'' he said. "I was laying there thinking I was never getting out.''
That was the extent of Lyle's complaining, though, in nine long months of hospital treatment.
"Amazing how he dealt with it considering everything he went through,'' John Lyle, Jarrod's father, said last week while following his son for 72 holes of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. "But I do remember one instance, early on, when he looked up from the bed and asked, 'Why me?' After that, there never was another complaint.''
Lyle had a fierce guardian angel by his side, his mother Sally-Anne, who was at the hospital before he woke up and didn't leave until after he fell asleep at night. All that time, Sally-Anne kept telling her son to fight the good fight against the disease.
Not a day went by without Sally-Anne telling her son to "build a bridge and get over it.'' It became Jarrod Lyle's motto, one he lives by today as he goes about learning the ropes on the PGA TOUR after graduating from the Nationwide Tour last season. The motto makes the bad swings easier to accept, the bogeys easier to forget and the bad rounds a distant memory.
Sally-Anne knows a little about bridge construction herself, considering she is stricken by multiple sclerosis. And apparently she did a wonderful job of passing on the skill to Jarrod.
Sally-Anne wasn't the only attentive Lyle during Jarrod's time of need. His father, John, took care of the other Lyle kids, Leighton and Karli, in Shepperton, which is approximately 112 miles from Melbourne. Three times a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, John would pick up Leighton and Karli and off they went to Melbourne to visit Jarrod. They'd return in the dead of the night, except on Fridays when they might stay the weekend.
"Those three are really, really close,'' John Lyle said.
Leighton, also an accomplished golfer, is in America, caddying for his brother this year. Their home base is Orlando, where Jarrod purchased a home in early March.
"After about three months of that my dad looked so pale and tired,'' Lyle recalled. "I told him to stop making the trip before he killed everybody because he might fall asleep at the wheel.''
Lyle, 25, shook his head at the constant outpouring of love and support he received from his nearest and dearest.
"The amount of sacrifice my family made was unbelievable,'' he said, his every word wrapped with gratefulness.
Said John Lyle: "I really cannot put into words how proud I am of him.''
Having soundly beaten his disease, Lyle turned professional in November of 2004 after a highly successful run as an amateur. His has been a Cinderella story ever since.
The Heineken Classic in Australia in early 2005 was Lyle's fourth tournament as a pro. And there he was, with the lead alone on the 14th tee of the final round. He stumbled with a bogey on the final hole to miss a playoff between Craig Parry and Nick O'Hern. But third never felt so good.
John was on the bag. Sally-Anne, Leighton and Karli, as well as hundreds of family members and friends, were in the gallery that numbered 33,000. When dawn broke that Monday, Lyle's picture was on the front page of three of Australia's biggest daily newspapers. His story had captured the heart of his homeland.
"You've either got to kill 50 people or do something extraordinary to make the front page,'' Lyle said, laughing as always. "I walked away from that week having been given so much support feeling like I had won.''
So here is Lyle now, on a fantasy trip to the PGA TOUR after his 2006 Nationwide Tour promotion. He has played in seven events, making four cuts. His best finish was a tie for 28th in New Orleans and he stands 155th on the money list. But he said last week he feels his game is coming around and he is confident he can achieve the only goal he set for himself in 2007: Making the top 125 on the money list in order to remain on TOUR.
"I'm going to give it my best shot,'' he said. "If I don't make it so be it. Maybe I'm not quite ready. We'll see. It has only been three years since I was thrown into the deep end of professional golf so I'm still learning.''
At least about golf. Lyle learned serious life lessons almost a decade ago.
He smiled when his mind drifted back to those early days of the diagnosis.
"Here I am, eight years later,'' he said. "I haven't had any medication since Christmas of 1999. I go in for blood work every six months, but that's it.''
Other than that there are no hiccups, save one.
"When I get sick now, even a little cold or something, I have a tendency to think the worst,'' he said. "I don't think that will ever change.''
And likely, neither will Lyle, who has the world on a string while sitting on a rainbow.