Jarrod Lyle’s competitive spirit may have initially served him well in his fight against cancer, but sadly the golfer was still losing his battle. Ultimately, then, the illness forced him to abandon hospital treatment and return home. But Lyle’s legion of loyal fans and loved ones were right behind him, and they rallied for the sportsman in his hour of need.
Golf enthusiasts may have first heard Lyle’s name when he first started playing professionally in his chosen sport in 2004. But the Australian star’s interest in golf had actually begun a couple of decades prior to this debut.
You see, Lyle was a caddy – that’s the person who supports the player and carries the clubs – for his father when he was just six years old. And during this time, the future golfer may very well have developed a love for the sport that would go on to shape his life. Before Lyle made it in golf, though, he faced a potentially life-threatening battle.
Specifically, doctors diagnosed a then-17-year-old Lyle with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML is a form of cancer affecting the sufferer’s bone marrow and blood cells. It’s an aggressive disease that grows and spreads quickly in the absence of treatment.
As a result, Lyle entered Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, where he embarked on a course of chemotherapy; the subsequent procedures left the young man bedridden. And while Lyle had recovered enough to stand nine months on, being able to walk around normally for long periods of time was still beyond him.
In fact, Lyle didn’t set foot on a golf course for a further year after chemotherapy. He eventually recovered, though, and rose through the ranks of his sport to reach professional golfer status. He would even perform well enough in second-tier events to earn his first PGA Tour Card for 2007.
Over the next few years, Lyle proved both his determination and skill, regaining his PGA Tour status via qualifying school on two further occasions. And although the sportsman didn’t win any PGA Tour events outright, he did nevertheless achieve an impressive milestone during his career. At the 2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open, he hit a hole-in-one at the iconic 16th hole.
It had been almost a decade since any golfer had achieved a similar feat on the famous “Stadium Hole” – unique because it’s completely surrounded by grandstands. For that moment, Lyle – or more accurately, his chosen charity – subsequently received a $25,000 reward. What’s more, the Aussie again finished high enough in “Q-School” to earn his place on the PGA Tour the following year.
Nor was the hole-in-one the only memorable thing to happen to the sportsman in 2011. In addition to Lyle’s golfing achievements, he married Briony Harper that December. And 2012 looked set to be a year of success for the golfer if his performance in an early tour event was anything to go by.
In February 2012, you see, Lyle finished joint fourth in the Northern Trust Open. A week later, however, an insect bit him at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, with the resulting infection leading the golfer to seek medical assistance. And, unfortunately, doctors found something worrying when test results came back: Lyle’s leukemia had returned.
Showing admirable bravery in the face of such devastating news, Lyle resumed his off-course fight against cancer and went on to beat the disease for a second time. And, impressively, in November 2013 he was well enough to play competitive golf again, entering the Australian Masters tournament and making the cut. After that, Lyle continued to play golf, competing under a medical exemption in 2014 and striving to win his place back on the PGA Tour on merit.
Tragically, however, Lyle’s health deteriorated again in July 2017. And his family – which now included not only his wife but also young daughters Jemma and Lusi – would inform the media of Lyle’s condition. “A routine blood test conducted earlier this week returned abnormal results,” their statement said. “Jarrod was immediately admitted to hospital and placed under the care of his previous medical specialist.”
The statement continued, “[Lyle] will remain [in hospital] – at least until a full diagnosis has been made. He has undergone several tests and will have several more in the coming days. At this point, we have not yet received complete test results, so there is no definitive diagnosis, and we do not have an agreed treatment plan.”
The Lyles may have suspected that the cause behind the golfer’s decline was a recurrence of AML. That turned out to be the case, as test results confirmed that the leukemia had returned. Subsequently, the golfing world rallied to support Lyle in his struggle, with best wishes flooding in via social media.
Then, over the year that followed, Lyle spent his days in hospital receiving chemotherapy. After a long fight, though, the athlete came to a difficult conclusion: he was going to stop treatment. His wife announced the devastating news on Facebook on July 31, 2018.
Briony wrote, “My heart breaks as I type this message. Earlier today, Jarrod made the decision to stop active treatment and begin palliative care. He has given everything that he’s got to give, and his poor body cannot take any more.”
“Jarrod knows he is loved,” Briony went on. “And the thousands of prayers and well wishes that have been sent his way have kept him going through some incredibly tough times. But he has reached his limit, and the docs have finally agreed that they can no longer strive for a positive outcome.”
Lyle therefore continued his battle in closer proximity to his family. He wasn’t fighting alone, either; the support the golfer received in hospital came with him into end-of-life care, too. Adam Scott, a former world number one golfer, was among Lyle’s allies.
“I can’t imagine being in that position; it’s unthinkable,” Scott told The Guardian in July 2018. “[Lyle] is one of the best [men] there is. Given all the difficulties he’s had since his late teens, he has lived the best life he could with the tough cards he has been dealt.”
Scott added, “[Lyle] played such good golf while battling illness; he has been through it all. His positivity and general demeanor has been so good and so infectious on others. It’s a good way to think of how I should live my life.”
Nor is Scott the only champion golfer that Lyle’s situation has touched, as another former world number one player, Jason Day, was also emotional in the face of Lyle’s battle. Day’s fellow golfer’s plight moved him on a personal level, too, thanks to the cancers that his own parents had fought.
Day had lost his father to stomach cancer; his mother had also faced lung cancer in 2017. “It’s hard news to take, and it is so unfortunate,” Day said of Lyle’s third leukemia fight. “It puts things in perspective. We are out here trying to compete, but at the end of the day there is life and family we need to be there for.”
Day continued, “We all love Jarrod. He’s such a good bloke. It’s not fair he’s going through this.” And Australian Marc Leishman, 2009’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year winner, also lent his support to the suffering golfer and explained Lyle’s impact on his fellow sportsmen.
“I’m absolutely gutted for the whole family, Briony and the kids,” Leishman revealed to The Guardian. “It’s been a hard road for Jarrod for so long, and he has fought so hard. He has always been the life of the party.”
“[Lyle] is a larger-than-life character and an inspiration to so many of us,” the devastated golfer continued. But Lyle’s friends and fans didn’t just provide emotional support and tributes to the sports personality; they also assisted his family financially. It all started with a fundraiser called January for Jarrod.
Taking place in January 2018, the January for Jarrod event was put together by the PGA Tour. Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer, announced the plan on the organizer’s official website.
“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,” Pazder explained. He also spoke of Lyle’s good nature.
“Jarrod would be the first player to support others in their time of need,” Pazder wrote. “And now it’s our turn to help he and his wife Briony and their two young children, Lusi and Jemma.” In total, the effort raised in excess of $65,000.
But January for Jarrod was just the first charity campaign to offer aid to Lyle’s cause. Fellow athlete and former professional golfer Tripp Isenhour also started a crowdfunding campaign for the Lyle family, hosting it on GoFundMe with Lusi and Jemma in mind.
Specifically, Isenhour’s intentions were to set up an education fund for Lyle’s daughters. And thanks to many generous donations, the money raised through the GoFundMe page ultimately totaled more than $216,000. Then it was reported that the kids’ cancer charity Challenge may also step up in support of Lyle and his family.
In times past, the golfer had himself raised money for Challenge. And during Lyle’s healthy years, keen observers may have seen him sporting a button depicting the charity’s duck mascot “Leuk the Duck” while he was on the golf course.
In fact, so many players wore Leuk’s image that the fowl became well known in the golfing world. Even Tiger Woods –who famously refuses to display charity badges for fear of showing favoritism – made an exception for Lyle’s cause. During 2012 and Lyle’s second struggle with AML, Woods showed his support with a Leuk pin.
Meanwhile, according to the newspaper The Irish Times, Lyle’s support had previously earned Challenge millions. Reports that Challenge was looking to dedicate proceeds from its Leuk The Duck merchandise to Lusi and Jemma therefore seemed rather fitting.
And while Lyle’s supporters couldn’t do anything more to help the man himself survive cancer, the golfer was very aware of the impact he had made within his chosen sport and beyond. He was grateful, too, that others had reached out to assist him and his family.
In August 2018 Lyle talked to Golf Australia podcast Inside the Ropes about his outlook. “I feel like I’m the luckiest golfer going around,” he revealed, “because so many people took an interest in me and took an interest in my fight.”
“You know, to have so many friends around the world,” Lyle explained. “Whether they’re spectators, whether they’re golfers, whether they’re marshals… whatever. To have that kind of support… to go to every tournament, is a great feeling.”
“It’s going to be hard to leave that behind, but they know that I love them. They know that all the fighting I did do was to get back out and play golf again. And to have that support from all those people was just a tremendous feeling,” Lyle concluded.
Then, on August 8, 2018, Lyle’s wife tragically announced his passing. “It breaks my heart to tell everyone that Jarrod is no longer with us,” Briony said in a statement. “He passed away peacefully at 8:20 p.m. last night, having spent his final week in Torquay among his family and close friends.”
“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,” Briony continued. “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.’”
And Lyle’s loved ones would later inter some of his ashes in the most fitting place: Shepparton Golf Club in the state of Victoria, Australia, which the golfer’s wife would refer to on Facebook as his “spiritual home.” Briony added in the October 2018 post, “Plenty of yellow, Leuk, smiles, tears and memories. And a perfect day for a round of golf.”