Even through cancer Jarrod Lyle was a ray of sunshine

Australian golfer passed away after battle with leukemia but will be fondly remembered

A file photo taken on November 14th, 2013, shows Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle teeing off during the first round of the the Australian Masters golf tournament played at the Royal Melbourne course in Melbourne. On Thursday Lyle passed away after a battle with cancer. Photo: William West/Getty Images

A file photo taken on November 14th, 2013, shows Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle teeing off during the first round of the the Australian Masters golf tournament played at the Royal Melbourne course in Melbourne. On Thursday Lyle passed away after a battle with cancer. Photo: William West/Getty Images

 

John Daly needed cheering up. It was a Monday morning after a particularly bad missed cut and he was alone on a practice green before a pro-am at Woodlands Golf Club in Melbourne. Around him were regular folk – amateurs, members, 18-markers – and they were leaving him be. For though he was the star turn, the famous “Wild Thing” from America, it didn’t appear that misery required company. Plus everyone had seen his news.

Three days earlier Daly had belted a bunch of balls into a lake at The Lakes in Sydney in the second round of the 2011 Australian Open. When he had no more (balls) to give, Daly thought, ‘Right – I’m done’. He shook hands with his playing partners and “stormed off,” according to reports (though as Daly would have it, he was just walking).

And so there he was on this Monday on the practice green at Woodlands. He had performed his media commitments (repeatedly telling this journalist, “Man, I just ran outta balls”), and was about to perform again. And though his face is hang-dog at the best of times, Daly looked like he needed a friend.

Jarrod Lyle would be that friend.

The big kid from Shepparton (he was 30 at the time but still retained cherubic features) had overcome cancer as a boy. He understood what was important. And it wasn’t flaps in the media. It was people. And he saw a person – a pro, a colleague, a mate – who needed pepping up. Who needed to know: you’re one of us. And: don’t sweat the small stuff.

And so Lyle walked up to Daly on the green with a mock-serious look on his face. Above his head on the tips of his fingers was perched a box. Daly looked up as Lyle entered his orbit. Lyle brought the box down under Daly’s eyes, like a waiter offering champagne from a silver tray. Daly’s eyes widened when he saw it. He looked up at Lyle smiling. And he cracked up. Roared with laughter. They both did.

In the box were a dozen golf balls.

Jarrod Lyle, who could not overcome acute myeloid leukaemia for a third time in his 36 years, had a way with people. I played golf with him in that pro-am. And it was a fine and fun few hours. You couldn’t help but like him. And he could really play. The purity with which he striped the ball with his languid, beautiful, powerful swing, it was unbelievable.

Lyle reached 142 in the official world golf rankings. He played 121 PGA Tour events and made the cut in 58 of them. He won the Mexico Open and the Nashville Open. In 2011 he aced the par-3 “Stadium” hole in Scottsdale, Arizona and Australians loved him anew when we lip-read his exclamation: “You fucking beauty!”

Yet Lyle’s legacy goes beyond golf. He raised millions for kids’ cancer charity Challenge. He’ll raise millions more. Tiger Woods, who generally doesn’t plug charities, lest he be inundated and criticised for supporting some and not others, wore a Leuk the Duck stickpin in Lyle’s honour.

“Tiger got asked to do everything for everyone for so long, and I knew that he just didn’t do that sort of stuff,” Lyle told friend Mark Hayes from Golf Australia. “He made a blanket rule but broke it for me. A bloke flat in a bed in Melbourne, halfway around the world.”

Friend Greg Chalmers described Lyle as “a wonderful father, friend and golfer. Quick with a joke, didn’t mind a beer, and just a pure joy to be around every day.” You could covet no greater epitaph. And at the end he was still thinking of others.

“Thanks for your support, it meant the world,” he said. “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.”

To support Challenge purchase Leuk The Duck merchandise at www.challenge.org.au. - Guardian service

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