Jarrod Lyle passes away at age 36
August 08, 2018
By Laury Livsey and Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- August 08, 2018
In Memoriam: Jarrod Lyle
Editor's note: Contributions can be made via GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/jarrod-lyles-girls. These funds are intended to be rolled into a trust for Jarrod’s daughters, Lusi and Jemma.
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.
“It breaks my heart to tell everyone that Jarrod is no longer with us," his wife Briony wrote in a statement from the family. “He passed away peacefully at 8.20 p.m. last night having spent his final week in Torquay among his family and close friends.
“(Daughters) Lusi, Jemma and I are filled with grief and now must confront our lives without the greatest husband and father we could ever have wished for.
“At the same time, we have been blessed and overwhelmed with the messages and actions of support from around the world and feel comforted that Jarrod was able to happily impact so many people throughout his life. Our humble thanks to you all.
“Jarrod was able to take in many of the unbelievably kind and generous acts and words in his final few days and was overwhelmed by the emotional outpouring.
“He asked that I provide a simple message: 'Thanks for your support, it meant the world. My time was short, but if I’ve helped people think and act on behalf of those families who suffer through cancer, hopefully it wasn’t wasted.'
“We will hold an intimate and private family service in the coming days. There will be a public memorial service at The Sands in Torquay at a date to be announced later. As per Jarrod’s wish, please donate to Challenge in lieu of gifts or flowers.”
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. Two weeks later, Lyle was playing in back-to-back Web.com Tour events in Australia and New Zealand, his 67-67 start at the New Zealand PGA Championship raising additional eyebrows when he held a share of the 36-hole lead with Peter O’Malley.
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.”
The good play in New Zealand helped open doors for Lyle, who became a full-fledged Web.com Tour member in 2006. He played in 21 tournaments, made 17 cuts, and posted seven top-10s, including a tie for fourth at the Jacob’s Creek Open and a tie for second at the ING New Zealand PGA Championship in his first two starts as a member.
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.”
Though his rookie year on the PGA TOUR didn’t go well – Lyle finished 183rd in the inaugural FedExCup standings – he tackled his return to the Web.com Tour in 2008 with an upbeat sense of confidence that would become his trademark. There was a breakthrough with two victories, beating Matt Every by five in the Mexico Open, and defeating Chris Kirk in a playoff at the Knoxville Open.
Following his victory in Morelia, Mexico, Lyle said, “Today was by far the best I’ve played in a long time. I was never out of position. I was never in danger of making a bogey. It was one of those days when everything seemed to come together at the right time. This victory is for my family who has been so supportive of me. I’m just a little sad they’re not here to see it.”
Lyle returned to the PGA TOUR in 2009 and was primarily a PGA TOUR player after that, recording five top-10s between 2009 and 2012. At the 2012 Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, Lyle posted two rounds of 69 and tied for 37th despite playing the weekend at El Camaleon Golf Club with an abscess on his arm that hampered his swing. While Lyle thought it was merely the result of an insect bite, Allenby – who went on to lose the tournament to John Huh in an eight-hole playoff – encouraged his friend to see a doctor.
“The first thing I told him was to head back to his home in Orlando and see a doctor,” Allenby wrote in a tribute to Lyle in Players Voice, an Australia sports publication. Allenby said doctors in Orlando didn’t detect anything, but he insisted his young friend go back home to Melbourne. “You’re heading back for the birth of your baby anyway. Golf will always be here. Don’t worry about that. Your health is the most important thing.”
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.
“Jarrod was just one of the best blokes there is,” said fellow Aussie Adam Scott. “I haven’t met a more positive person.”
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.
“It’s of utmost importance for the PGA TOUR family and the golf community to come together and help Jarrod and his family both spiritually and financially during ‘January for Jarrod’ month,” said PGA TOUR Executive Vice President and Chief Tournaments and Competitions Officer Andy Pazder, at the time. “Jarrod would be the first player to support others in their time of need, and now it’s our turn to help.”
The PGA TOUR community responded and even as the news out of Australia grew increasingly bleak this summer, his fellow pros echoed words of strength, knowing Jarrod Lyle had shown nothing less. “Someone like Jarrod, he’s someone that no matter what’s going on with him, how he’s feeling, how he’s playing, he made your day better,” said Rickie Fowler, who joined with the entire 71-player field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week to wear yellow ribbons in honor of Lyle’s fight.
“He’s given everything he’s had from the first time he (was diagnosed) with leukemia.”
Perhaps no one stood in Lyle’s corner more fervently than Allenby, who joined colleagues in wearing yellow ribbons at the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nev. The words were tough to speak, but Allenby’s emotions poured forth in his beautiful essay in Players Voice.
“It’s hard to think right now,” Allenby wrote. “My mind has been so bloody clouded these last few days. All the emotions. I haven’t been myself for quite a while. But here’s what I do know: In life, you don’t have too many top-quality friends, ones you can trust, ones you can call upon. You can count them on one hand. Jarrod’s on that hand for me. There’s a bond and a trust that I will cherish forever.
“I love him like a brother and count myself fortunate that I have had him in my life for this long. He’s a top bloke and an inspiration to millions. He is loved and admired all around the world. I hope he is pain-free and at peace. He is, and will always be, my hero.”