ST. LOUIS – Thursday was the first day of golf without Jarrod Lyle in the world.
Golf goes on; life goes on. But the feeling that something was missing, that someone was missing, was palpable when the 100th PGA Championship began on a warm August morning at Bellerive Country Club.
Lyle was just 36. He was a jovial Australian who spent the past two decades playing professional golf between one long nightmare that was three recurring bouts of acute myeloid leukemia. His brave fight ended Wednesday night, a few days after he and his family decided to stop his treatments. He slipped into a coma earlier in the day at his home in Australia before the final curtain fell gracefully (“In the news,” Aug. 9).
So, Lyle wasn’t here for the 100th PGA Championship. But he was here.
He was seen in the yellow ribbons pinned to the caps of nearly every golfer in the field, a tribute that his fellow players began a week earlier at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
He was here in the soft tones and fond smiles of his friends who hurt to talk about his death after the news spread around the course yet also were uplifted at recalling the memory of Lyle’s love of life.
Jason Day lived across the street from Lyle in Orlando, Fla., when they first started on the PGA Tour a decade ago. Day, a fellow Aussie, shot 67 to stand three shots off the pace (scores). He paused briefly during a post-round interview to gather himself while tears formed at the memory of his good friend.
“I received a text about Jarrod and – it’s hard because he’s a buddy of yours, and he’s not there anymore and he’s never going to come back,” Day said. “That’s the hardest thing. It’s heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers go out to Bri, his wife, and their two kids.
“He battled half his life. The crazy thing is, he was always upbeat and positive. For him to get diagnosed with it when he was 17 and battle it three times shows how much of a fighter he was. I would not know one-tenth of what he and his family went through, but he impacted a lot of people because of it. For people out there who are sick, to hear his story and know he fought for a long time, lived a good life and had two kids and a loving wife, that’s a lot of positive.”
Lyle’s legacy will be one of exceptional golf, will, love and fun. There was no better moment in Waste Management Phoenix Open history than in 2011 when Lyle, back on the PGA Tour after shaking off leukemia for a second time, made a hole-in-one at the famed par-3 16th, the stadium-like hole surrounded by upwards of 20,000 noisy fans. His reaction was a moment of beauty, surprise and joy. If watching this video doesn’t make you smile, then crawl back into your cave, Mr. Scrooge.
The loss of Lyle startled Stewart Cink, a former British Open champion. Cink’s wife, Lisa, is in remission from a fight with breast cancer and has completed chemotherapy treatments. Cink heard from his wife on Wednesday when she flew into St. Louis that Lyle had gone into a coma. The rest of the bad news came later that night.
“I was surprised because I’d read Jarrod was cancer-free and stopped the treatment, and one of Jarrod’s caddie friends, confirmed that was true,” Cink said. “So, I was really shocked.
“It scares me, personally, because we’re close to cancer, and I’m sure it scares Lisa, too. It can turn so quickly. It’s really quite horrendous.”
The most haunting part is what Lyle told an Australian writer in November when he announced that he was starting treatment in a Melbourne hospital for a serious relapse. The treatment was a difficult chemotherapy that would destroy his bone marrow.
“They are going to kill me from the inside out,” Lyle told PGATour.com.
Lyle had to know. But he had two young daughters – Lusi, 6, and Jemma, 2 – on whom he doted, especially because he wasn’t sure that he would be able to father children after his earlier rounds of treatment. Lyle would do anything it took to win more time with them, even an action this harrowing.
Cink’s face grew ashen when I mentioned Lyle’s fateful comment.
“The sad thing with Jarrod was that he had to basically choose, Do I want cancer to kill me or do I want this treatment to kill me?” Cink said. “That’s where we are in cancer treatment. We kill to heal. There’s got to be a better way. It’ll take high-profile cancer battles like Jarrod Lyle or maybe even Lisa Cink to help spur the research we need to get to a place where we won’t have to kill cells to heal cells.”
The testimonials to Lyle surely will continue for a long time. Aussie golfer Robert Allenby wrote a heartfelt, R-rated version on PlayersVoice.com that quickly made the rounds online.
Tour player Bryson DeChambeau won Tuesday’s long-drive championship here at the PGA and donated his $25,000 prize to a fund for Lyle’s family. A fan wrote on Twitter that his new favorite golfer was Hideki Matsuyama after learning of the Japanese player’s gift of $50,000 to Lyle’s fund.
Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour was a close friend of Lyle’s and started a GoFundMe account a few weeks ago to help Lyle’s family. He wrote, “I love the saying, ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ Jarrod Lyle was that person.”
Lyle affected golfers young and old, players whom he knew and didn’t know. Steve Elkington, a fellow Aussie and former PGA champion, quoted the Book of Revelation (21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more …”) and attached it to a drawing that he made in honor of Lyle. Curtis Strange, who previously noted that he never met Lyle but wished he had, wrote simply, “We all cry tonight.”
When I profiled Lyle for Sports Illustrated after one of his medical-miracle comebacks, we sat on a clubhouse porch at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., for a lengthy interview. We were scheduled to chat after his round, but when a long rain delay loomed midday, the affable Lyle insisted that we talk during the storm. He genuinely didn’t want me to be inconvenienced later. I don’t recall what I wrote, but I’m sure that I failed to adequately capture his joyful countenance, wit and inner strength.
He had an inexplicable effect on others.
“You didn’t have to know him,” said Cink, who said he never played golf with Lyle. “You’d walk past on the practice green – you’re both hitting 40-footers, like ships passing in the night – and you got the feeling, This is a good dude. He was a positive force. I don’t think I ever saw him without a big smile on his face.”
Golf goes on; life goes on.
I saw the Goodyear blimp drifting overhead at Bellerive in the early-afternoon sky beneath broken, cottony clouds. The blimp is silver-colored on top and underneath and blue around the middle, with a thin yellow border that could be a yellow ribbon. That’s how it looked to me, anyway.
Jarrod Lyle couldn’t be here Thursday. But he was here.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle