Finally cancer-free, Lyle sets timetable to return to TOUR

As a PGA TOUR rookie in 2007, Jarrod Lyle talks about getting diagnosed with leukemia in 1999.

June 18, 2013

By Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM Columnist

The rounds of chemotherapy, the four months in a Melbourne hospital away from his wife and daughter, the stem cell transplant, the tests upon tests, are all a memory for Jarrod Lyle now.

Worries about survival rates have receded, his appetite has returned – “Finally, I think, it’s well and truly back now,” he said – and so are “seven or eight” of the 45 pounds he dropped from his 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pound frame during chemo.

The best news: his 12-month screening came back clean earlier this month, and Lyle believes his second battle with acute myeloid leukemia is well on its way to being won.

“I’m through with it now,” he said late Monday night (early Tuesday morning in Australia). “The sickness, all that stuff, hasn’t come back. I’ve just started getting back in the gym. I’ve been in three times in the last week-and-a-half, so I’m trying to get started building back up because I really want to make the effort to get back to the TOUR fitter and stronger and healthier than I ever was.”

As much as the 31-year-old Aussie from Shepparton, Australia, had hoped to be back at the start of the 2014 season, Lyle said it is looking more and more as though a realistic timetable is sometime around mid-season in ’14.

“It’d be different if I was just coming back from a torn hamstring or something like that,” he said, laughing at the thought. “But it’s not, and there is still a lot of unknown about things like how much flying I’ll be able to do and until all the questions like that are crossed off I don’t know when exactly I’ll be back.

“It’s a matter of getting all the way healthy and staying healthy and making sure that this horrible disease doesn’t come back again.”

Even while discussing cancer’s stark realities from 11,000 miles away on a slightly dodgy cell phone connection, you can hear the smile in Jarrod Lyle’s voice. And when he tells you, “At the moment, I couldn’t be happier,” you have to stop and think about what exactly it means for Lyle.

It helps to first have a point of reference for what makes Lyle happy. Start with the look of pure joy that lit up his face a couple years ago at the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. Take a few minutes to look at the video here (no worries; we’ll wait for you).

If you can’t smile at that, call a doctor. After the ace went into the hole that day at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2011, Lyle said it was one of the coolest feelings in the world. He was on the PGA TOUR, doing what he’d dreamed of since he started playing golf at age 6. To make his first hole-in-one as a professional in front of thousands of screaming fans at the stadium par-three at Scottsdale was, he said then, the experience of a lifetime.

In the 15 months since the return of the leukemia that first struck him at the age of 17, Lyle has lived out the many different shades of happiness. Start with the birth of Lusi Joy Lyle  --  Jarrod and wife Briony’s first child  --  born on the eve of his first chemotherapy session. He spent 12 hours at the hospital with Bri and Lusi on that March night in 2012, then left for a month-long hospital stay of his own.

“That was hard, having to leave them there, but also the best thing because I did get to see her,” Lyle said. “But then came the whole unknown thing of whether I would see her again, whether I’d get out of hospital, whether I’d be there to see her grow up. That was the hardest part of this whole deal.”

Although Lyle doesn’t mind recalling the dark moments, he seems incapable of dwelling on them. This positive side of his nature, which takes over every discussion, is what impressed his childhood golf idol, Robert Allenby, the Aussie ball-striking machine from Melbourne who first visited the 17-year-old Lyle in hospital during the first leukemia treatments.

“The best thing about him is every day is a great day when he wakes up,” Allenby once said of Lyle. “That, to me, is something that’s pretty special.”

It’s a trait that is special enough to impress many of Lyle’s fellow competitors on the TOUR, much more than he realized. When news circulated on the recurrence of his leukemia after last year’s The Honda Classic, former TOUR pro and current Golf Channel commentator Tripp Isenhour went to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard two weeks later to put together a DVD of good wishes and encouragement from players in the field.

The video turned into a 40-minute outpouring that moved Lyle to tears when he viewed it in the hospital the day after his first chemotherapy. He was overwhelmed that he, a two-time winner on the Tour still looking for his first TOUR victory, heard from almost everybody there.

“Guys like Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia, all the Aussies, caddies, TOUR officials, everybody out there,” Lyle said. “I cried for 45 minutes. It was just amazing to me, first that Tripp would put this together. I’m laying there in hospital, and to know that these guys I’m trying to beat week in and week out actually care about how I’m doing? To me, that’s pretty humbling.”

“It’s something I’ll treasure all my life. And something I can show Lusi, when she can comprehend it, so she can know that when she was just a little baby, dad was fighting for his life. That is going to be a big thing for me.”

For now, Lyle is giving his wife and daughter his almost undivided attention. He has learned to change diapers, he said, and is wearing himself out chasing the 15-month-old Lusi around the house. He estimates he has played golf, on average, once every three weeks, but is aiming to start playing once a week down in Melbourne at The Sands Torquay and gradually building up to twice a week.

While undergoing chemotherapy, Lyle said, he came to the conclusion that if he was not able to play golf again at a high level, he could “walk away and say I’ve been very happy, that I’ve had a good run at it, been on the PGA TOUR for four and a bit years and had a good crack at it.”

But now that he’s getting stronger, he wants to aim toward trying a series of four-day pro-ams, “Not worrying about any scores or anything, just to see if I could walk 18 holes four days in a row. Just see how I hold up after each day.”

Lyle is mindful that he has now twice beaten the odds, that there is no guarantee that he will get back to same level of play on the TOUR, nor that the cancer won’t recur again. But he isn’t thinking about any of that. He’s thinking about being a husband and father, living out life with his wife and daughter.

“When I look at them now, I feel like I’m the luckiest man alive,” he said. “And now, we’ve finally got our health. And just walking around, I couldn’t be happier.”

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.