I warned you about this. I told you it was coming. So as the day dawns on Thursday, don’t tell me I forgot to mention this.
It’s the first day of the 2014-2015 “season” of the PGA Tour…which is pretty much now a year round affair. This week it’s the Frys.com Open, moving this year from one end of the San Francisco Bay Area to the other; from south of San Jose to way up north in the wine country of Napa County. From CordeValle to the North course at Silverado Country Club in Napa, California.
Redesigned by Johnny Miller who is in the ownership group, it will play a tight, 7,203 yards with the rough up. It’s also that time of year where it can be quite chilly in the 50s in the morning and then blossom into a sun-drenched day in the mid-80s.
There’s a nice field in attendance including last year’s first time winner, Jimmy Walker who went on to quickly win two more on the year and earn a spot on the Ryder Cup. There’s also a nice chunk of first timers fresh off their Web.com campaign or from the Web.com Q-School.
But the guy who caught my attention because he’s such a good story is Jarrod Lyle from Orlando by way of Australia. I still remember his emotional presence in the 2002 Open Championship where he missed the cut, but was feted for his 1999 battle at 17 with acute myeloid leukemia. It was an inspiring “Rocky” kind of story without the music.
After knocking about on the European Tour and Australasia Tour, he found his way onto the Web.com Tour and ultimately to the PGA Tour in 2007. As happens to the best, he spent 2008 back on the Web.com until he settled back onto the PGA Tour in 2009. That is, until the leukemia came calling again in 2012 when he went to the doctor with an infected insect bite from the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.
Since then he has endured and recovered from the chemotherapy, gotten himself back out onto the Web.com Tour and this week Monday qualified into this tournament. But it wasn’t easy:
“Yeah, look, I obviously played pretty decent on Monday (66). I was 6‑under through 10 holes, and things were heading pretty well, and then couldn’t really buy a birdie the last few holes, but ended up in a playoff with eight guys for four spots, and I birdied the second hole and was the second guy through. It was a nice time to roll in a 25‑footer to get another tournament in.”
“I sort of gave myself a little fist pump and thought, I’ve done it. But in the car on the way home, I kind of screamed like a little girl that I’d finally done it and got myself into a tournament that I wasn’t going to be playing.”
When you have a life-altering body slam like leukemia, you gain a sense of perspective. Asked if he was disappointed or angry that a successful form PGA Tour member hadn’t been granted a sponsor invitation, he never batted an eye and instead expressed sympathy for the guy that has to make those decisions:
“Oh, I don’t feel like I should have got one at all. You know, it’s a tough job being a tournament director. You get letters every week to choose, so it’s difficult, everybody has got a story. My story is a little bit different than everybody else’s, I guess, but look, it’s one of those things. He’s obviously chosen the right people that he wanted to choose for those spots, and I missed out as well as 390 other people missed out, as well. I can’t be disappointed, and I’ve got myself into the tournament on my own merits, which that’s what makes me really proud.”
Fortunately of the two letters he has written this year, Silverado and Las Vegas, he was granted an exemption for Vegas. So he gets to play two in a row before heading back to his doctors in Australia for routine checkups. Fortunately, all of his treatments are over save for a precautionary, daily penicillin tablet “for the rest of my life.”
But he doesn’t mope around stuck in the “why me?” questions. It’s pointless:
“Yeah. Look, in all honesty I think the two times that I’ve had it, I don’t think I’ve ever said why me. It’s something that I’ve obviously annoyed somebody somewhere. They’ve chucked it at me twice now, so I’ve disappointed someone. But I don’t think I’ve ever said why me.”
“It’s something that makes me very proud, that I’ve never sort of backed away from the fire, I’ve sort of come straight up to it. I don’t know whether that’s me being an Aussie or something, but I’ve just gone into it head first and said, look, it’s not going to beat me. I’m not going to let it beat me because I had things I wanted to achieve. I wanted to get married, I wanted to have kids, I wanted to get back here and play golf.”
“I’m just looking forward to the future now, and I don’t know what life is going to have in store for me in years to come, but right now I’m here to play golf, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
And as is true for so many men in his situation, it was the mother of his child who kept him fighting the good fight:
“Well, I think if it wasn’t for my wife, I probably wouldn’t be here. She made the doctors delay my [treatment] so I could be at the birth, to be able to see my daughter be born and to sort of have that to hang onto as I was dealing with what I was dealing with.”
“You know, I obviously don’t know how she got through everything, dealing with a husband who was sick and having a newborn daughter who she had to care for pretty much 24/7. If it basically wasn’t for her strength, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now to be able to play golf again. I owe a lot to her for kicking me in the ass pretty much.”
In addition to all his family in friends in Australia, he discovered he had a lot of friends on the PGA Tour:
“I think this is going to be just as emotional [as home] because these guys on the PGA Tour, they’ve reached out to us from the start and they’re always texting and emailing and getting in contact and just making sure we’re doing okay.”
“To be able to have such a big family behind us over there, like the PGA Tour is a big family, and to be able to have them in your corner, as well, sort of helping you deal with everything, that’s great. I’ve enjoyed the last couple of days just being out here and seeing everybody and thanking them for their support over the last couple years.”
And he had no idea how deep the Tour support ran:
“No. No idea, because you’re in such a competitive sport that you’re fighting against these guys every week to try and beat them and beat your mates and things like that. I thought it was kind of — they would just forget about it a little bit and say, best of luck with everything.”
“But to have the support of the guys — probably the guy that was the best out of the whole PGA Tour was Rickie Fowler. He was a guy that he was wearing stuff on his hat for me, and he won one year at Charlotte wearing a Luke the duck. And Scott Piercy wore a Luke the duck when he won in Canada, as well. They’re two of my good mates out here. God forbid they were in a situation like that, I’d be the first one in their corner.”
And that depth of support from the Tour was amply demonstrated by an amazing gift they gave to Lyle when the battle began:
“There hasn’t been a lot of stories like mine out here on the PGA Tour, but I remember it must have been the week after I got sick that everyone was at Bay Hill. I live in Orlando right near Bay Hill, and The Golf Channel got together and organized all the guys to get on camera and say a few words to me. Tripp Isenhour was the one that sort of instigated this thing, and he told me something was going to happen in the mail a couple weeks later, there was this DVD that turned up, and I watched it and I cried for 45 minutes. I still cry when I look at it.”
“But these guys were taking 30 seconds out of their day to jump on camera to wish me all the best, guys that I probably haven’t spoke to much or haven’t played with before, but to see those guys get on there and just wish us all the best, that meant the world, and it showed me how much support that I had from my competitors and my peers over here. It was just incredible, and it’s something that I’m going to cherish until the day I die is this DVD from guys just saying hello or just saying good luck or we’re thinking about you and that kind of stuff.”
“It definitely meant the world to have everybody at the PGA Tour, not just the players but the officials and rules guys and media guys, all these people behind the PGA Tour, that they were behind me this whole time”
When these sorts of things happen, it provides wide swaths of time to think about things. And one of the things that comes from surviving is a sense of perspective and acceptance of the cards you’ve been dealt…and knowing that you’re big enough to handle whatever comes your way:
“Oh, look, I think you can put it into simple terms that bogeys mean nothing. If you go out there and you have 80, you know, you’ve obviously experienced the golf course a bit more than you should have, but a bad round doesn’t mean anything anymore. You hear guys say your son or daughter doesn’t know what you shot, and that’s the way it is.”
“I know I’ve shot 80, but I don’t care. At the Australian Masters last year I shot 79, and it’s the best 79 I’ve ever had in my life. Whether I have 90 this week or 60 this week, it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. I’m out there playing golf, and to me that’s the best achievement I could have got out of this whole ordeal. “
But I’m guessing that he’s going to do a little bit better than that.