News & Opinion

Gear makers opt for yellow to honor Lyle

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

The late Jarrod Lyle will be fondly remembered for a lot of things, including a riotous hole-in-one at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his giving nature, his grit and grace through multiple battles with cancer, and also his sense of humor.

One of his favorite practical jokes was tweaking unsuspecting newcomers with his supposed first job back home in Australia before he became a successful professional golfer.

Lyle told a gullible young houseguest during the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., that he started out as a … koala whacker.

“What’s a koala whacker?” the guest asked.

Well, Lyle said, Australia has so many koalas that they infest the Sydney Harbour Bridge, climb up the bridgework, poop on cars and pedestrians and create a big mess. Lyle said his job required him to strap into a harness, ascend the bridgework and whack the koalas with a stick to knock them off. When they fell into the water below, a fellow worker in a boat fished them out with a net, and the bears were taken out of the city.

Eddie Rowland, the chief executive officer of Nexbelt and the man who put Lyle in charge of being the first Nexbelt distributor for Australia, still laughs when he tells the story. Lyle’s houseguest was a member of the Nexbelt staff attending the PGA Show. The morning after Lyle’s tall tale, the young man – who shall remain nameless – enthusiastically regaled his colleagues at a staff breakfast with the details of koala whacking.

The staffers played along, feigning skepticism. “Our guy bought the story hook, line and sinker,” Rowland said. “I asked if he really believed it, and he said, ‘Why would Jarrod lie to me, man? We’re buddies now.’ ”

Later at the merchandise show, the newbie was told that he’d been set up as a joke. Lyle had done such a good job of selling it, they had a difficult time convincing him that koala whacking is not a thing.

Such was Lyle’s charm, authenticity and delightful warmth that few saw his occasional devious jokes coming. Tragically, Lyle died at home in Australia on Aug. 8, the day before the PGA Championship (“Lyle inspires mates through their tears,” Aug. 10). He was 36 and had bravely battled recurring cancer for most of two decades while playing pro golf.

Lyle’s legacy of kindness and good cheer will endure for years. Two manufacturers are offering options for the public to help Lyle’s family – his widow, Briony, and two daughters.

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Titleist offers a yellow bucket hat, just like the late Jarrod Lyle wore on the PGA Tour, with proceeds to benefit Lyle’s family.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TITLEIST
Titleist offers a yellow bucket hat, just like the late Jarrod Lyle wore on the PGA Tour, with proceeds to benefit Lyle’s family.

Titleist has nearly exhausted its supply of Lyle’s trademark yellow bucket hat ($40) and a yellow cotton Titleist hat ($30) through its website. The company passed out the hats to PGA Tour players two weeks ago at the Wyndham Championship and at last week’s Northern Trust. All proceeds go to Lyle’s family.

Nexbelt is selling its novel hole-less yellow belts ($29.99) in Lyle’s memory, and offers the option of including a limited-edition Jarrod Lyle belt buckle ($39.99) that features Leuk the Duck swinging a golf club beneath Lyle’s name. Leuk the Duck is a cartoon character who represents the fight against childhood cancer, a program that Lyle and fellow Aussie golfer Robert Allenby heavily supported. All sales from the belt at www.Nexbelt.com go to Lyle’s family.

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Nexbelt sells the Jarrod Lyle series belt, with an optional Leuk the Duck buckle, in honor of the late PGA Tour player, with proceeds to aid Lyle’s family.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEXBELT
Nexbelt sells the Jarrod Lyle series belt, with an optional Leuk the Duck buckle, in honor of the late PGA Tour player, with proceeds to aid Lyle’s family.

Rowland started Nexbelt in 2011 after seeing a hole-less belt two years earlier on a family vacation in Vietnam. He was impressed. When he got home and couldn’t find anyone making a similar belt, he started an apparel company that did.

A Nexbelt doesn’t have holes like a traditional belt. It works using a ratcheting system in which the belt is pushed – not pulled –through the buckle, and teeth lock it into place. The belt is adjustable at quarter-inch increments, and customers trim the belt with sharp scissors to accommodate their waist size.

The Jarrod Lyle memorial belt and buckle have been a hit. “We didn’t realize how good it was going to go,” Rowland said. “We had only 200 yellow belts to start because, well, they’re yellow, and normally we don’t sell a lot of yellow belts.”

There were only 30-some remaining at last count (after I purchased two), so Nexbelt needs to reload.

I suggested starting an annual Jarrod Lyle Memorial Day at a PGA Tour event in which Nexbelt would distribute yellow belts to competitors. The Tour already promotes a breast cancer awareness day, when players wear pink golf shirts (forcing cameramen and commentators to squint hard to tell who’s who) and a college day, when players wear their school colors.

So why not a Jarrod Lyle Memorial Day? It was obvious what an impact the good-natured Lyle made on the PGA Tour by seeing how many fellow players wore yellow ribbons pinned to their caps in his honor at the PGA Championship.

Rowland liked the idea. He said Phoenix would be a great place to hold it. That’s where Lyle made a memorable hole-in-one in the 2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open during his last comeback attempt and had a touching reaction. He said he’d make some calls and try to put things in motion.

The WMPO annually hosts a Green Out, usually in the third round, for fans to wear green and promote recycling awareness. Yellow belts would go well with green shirts or slacks that day, as any fan of the green-and-gold Green Bay Packers would tell you.

Green and gold happen to be the national colors of Australia, too. Jarrod Lyle wore that combination often – proudly, of course, and always with a smile.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle