The two most well-worn ruts in professional golf are when a player judges his self-worth by his scores and when fans weigh his impact solely by heft of trophies won.
Those are myopic criteria, and wholly inadequate to measure the legacy of Jarrod Lyle.
Lyle’s story is by now well known: diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia as a teenager in Australia, scrapped his way to the PGA Tour, overcame a recurrence of the disease in 2013, then finally succumbed this month in a third bout. He was 13 days shy of his 37th birthday and left a wife, Briony, and two daughters, Lusi and Jemma.
“At what point do you rate a person with golf? It comes down to how did they impact lives and golf in general,” says Robert Allenby, the four-time Tour winner. “Some players haven’t won majors but they’ve impacted the world in so many ways, and that’s where Jarrod Lyle comes in. He’s impacted millions of people through his fight for life.”
Allenby is known as one of the more pugnacious guys on Tour, a feisty Aussie neither afraid to express an opinion nor shy about backing it up. But there’s a gentle timbre to his voice when he talks about Lyle.
“This is someone I’ve loved and admired and cherished,” he said softly. “I started off as his hero and he ended up as my hero.”
And to others, besides. Every player at the PGA Championship wore a ribbon in honor of him, and his signature yellow hat was much in evidence at last week’s Wyndham Championship.
“It just shows you how loyal the players on the PGA Tour are,” Allenby said. “It’s a tribute to the kind of person he was. He was such a good guy, and people can see that in his face. The charisma that came out of that smile is what drew everyone to him. Just a great human being.”
The support is practical too. Golf Channel analyst Tripp Isenhour started a GoFundMe campaign for Lyle’s family that has raised over $200,000. Bryson DeChambeau won the Long Drive Contest at the PGA Championship and donated his $25,000 prize to the cause. An Australian radio station raised $178,000 in one day, which a friend of Allenby’s rounded up to $200,000. Many clubs are planning fundraising events.
“By the end of the year there’s going to be well over a million dollars,” Allenby said.
That doesn’t happen with just anyone. The tributes paid to Lyle – whether in the form of fingers on keyboards or hands in pockets – are testament not to his tragic death but to his noble life.
For 28 years, Allenby has worked with the Challenge Cancer charity, and for many of those years Lyle stood next to him at his share of fundraisers and hospital beds.
“Here’s a guy who has gone through it three times and he still wanted to go in there and visit kids and say, ‘Come on, you can do this!’ That’s the type of person he was,” Allenby recalled.
“I witnessed it from when he was 17 until he was 36. I’m really overwhelmed with the support, and I know he was too. He was so thankful. He was just a country boy from Shepparton. He grew up in a quiet place and played golf in a quiet place and then obviously hit the big time with the U.S. Tour, which I thought was just the most amazing effort ever. He showed so much strength.”
We live in the era of social media mourning, a rolling collective grief in which people post messages of sympathy for folks they don’t know who are suffering in places they’ve never been. See tragedy, tweet, repeat.
Lyle’s story has risen above that fray. His fellow Aussies are determined to keep it there.
“I told him, ‘I promise your name will stay on forever,’” said Allenby, who is working on an appropriate tribute with Geoff Ogilvy. “We’ll keep his legacy going. He deserved to be around for a lot longer, but if he can’t be around physically then let’s associate his name with something. He was such a fighter and had such a love for everything he did …”
His voice trails off into silence.
“Just a bloody good bloke,” he said finally.
Golfweek, August 19, 2018.