WHEN cancer survivor Jarrod Lyle returns to golf after a 20-month lay-off at the Australian Masters at Royal Melbourne tomorrow morning, he expects a number of teary eyes on the tee. His own among them.
The 32-year Lyle will play his first tournament since his second fight with myeloid leukemia - his first came at the age of 17. This time, he’ll have his wife and young daughter with him when he starts a tournament that he’s not sure he’s physically ready to finish should he make the 36-hole cut.
His opening shot will be as much emotional as physical.
“Just walking to that first tee and teeing the ball up and trying to hit it - that’s probably going to be the hardest thing,” Lyle said Tuesday at Royal Melbourne.
“It’s just going to let a whole lot of stuff out. Hopefully when that ball flies I can just get on to playing golf and put everything behind me and just get back to the golfer that I am.”
Lyle, then a regular on the US PGA Tour, was diagnosed with his second bout of leukemia in March 2012 just before the birth of his daughter, Lusi. Lyle’s wife, Briony, became pregnant despite medical advice that Lyle’s first bout of cancer and the resulting chemotherapy would leave him sterile.
With a medical exemption to return to the PGA Tour whenever he feels he’s ready - and it might not be until late in 2014 - Lyle has found his second bout of cancer illuminating. On the positive side, he knew what to expect, and anti-nausea drugs to counteract the chemotherapy had improved in the 15 years between his illnesses.
On the downside, because he had the disease once, it was harder to overcome twice. The first bout saw him spend two to three weeks at a time in hospital, this time around it often was four or five weeks or more. He’s lost weight, and his strength.
And he’s still not out of the usual five years of “all-clear, beat-the-cancer” time frame, like he thought he had done as a teenager.
Briony and Lusi, nearly 2, will be among a big group of friends and family supporting him at Royal Melbourne on Thursday on Friday. And against all odds, maybe the weekend.
Lyle will tee off just after midday on the first hole on Thursday with two veterans to help him along - fellow Australian and 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, and Brendon de Jonge, the Zimbabwean who represented the International team at the recent Presidents Cup.
Many of Lyle’s fans will be wearing specially designed yellow shirts and hats to support his involvement in the children’s cancer charity Challenge.
When Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Florida in 2012, he was wearing a “Leuk the Duck” pin on his cap. The cartoon duck is a mascot for kids who come through the Challenge charity, and Woods wore it out of respect for Lyle, as did many players in the field not long after Lyle’s second cancer fight was known.
“To have the support of all those guys, guys that I am not really close with as well, it is nice,” Lyle said at the time. “It is nice to know they still care and want to know how you are going.”
On Thursday at Royal Melbourne, Lyle won’t forget that support and knows where his heart will be.
“I’m going to dedicate this first tee shot to everybody that’s done that over the years or over the last 20 months, “ he says. “Everyone who has got in contact with us and given us support.”