Lyle battled leukemia for baby girl: 'She's the reason why I am here today'
JUL 22, 2014 2:00p ET
ORLANDO, Fla. – Her smile will melt your heart instantaneously. Her giggle is infectious; you can't help but bust out a bit yourself. Her bouncy red hair and innocent, big eyes command your attention.
Two-year-old Lusi Joy Lyle is a showstopper – destined to break the hearts of many.
And her pops is well aware of the trouble he is in a little more than a decade from now, but Jarrod Lyle already has a game plan.
"I will be there with the shotgun when her boyfriend brings her home," Lyle quipped, not entirely tongue in cheek.
Jarrod has plenty to be protective of, as his bundle of joy isn't simply his daughter – she's also the reason he says he is still alive.
View images of Jarrod Lyle and his family while visiting Golf Channel studios and at his home in Orlando.
In March 2012 – nearly 7 months into an unlikely pregnancy with wife Briony – Jarrod received jarring news that he had leukemia for the second time. Coming off one of his most consistent starts to a PGA Tour season – making six of seven cuts – and with Lusi on the way, Jarrod found himself on an emotional roller coaster.
After beating the sometimes-fatal disease as a teenager, Jarrod had a new reason to fight. The first time around, there were dreams of professional golf and making millions. Now it was visions of watching Lusi reach her 18th or 21st birthday, getting married and having children of her own.
"She was the perfect distraction," Briony explained.
"She's the reason why I am here today," Jarrod admitted.
With Jarrod holed up in the hospital for up to five weeks at a time for treatments, and Briony dealing with self-described "baby brain," neither parent had time to indulge the disease.
Lusi needed their undivided attention.
Drawing upon his previous experience with the heavy duty medications and the physical demands of chemotherapy, Jarrod was able to keep both himself and Briony focused on their new family by making English out of the doctor's prognosis. Jarrod would fill the dark, lonely nights by looking at photos and videos of Lusi, just waiting for the next day's visit from his family.
"I don't want to think about what it would have been like without her there," Briony said. "Hospitals are pretty uninspiring places."
Little did the Lyles know, their battle against Jarrod's cancer was inspiring others fighting for their lives while also capturing the hearts of the golf community.
As Jarrod focused on Lusi, golf became an afterthought for the two-time Web.com Tour champion, even to the point where he told Briony that he might never tee it up again. But then he'd see a tweet from a Rickie Fowler or get an e-mail from a Mike Weir, and that'd suck him back in. Briony remembers hearing her name being used by players she had never met, including Ernie Els.
"It was a real wake-up call for everybody. I think a lot of guys realized that golf is just a game," Briony said.
But that game found a way to give back. In hearing that their brother was in for the fight of his life, players teeing it up at the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational donned "Leuk the Duck" pins on their hats or polos to bring attention to the organization Challenge, a group that supports kids with cancer in Lyle's native Australia. Lyle came through the program himself during his first tussle with leukemia.
Jarrod was humbled by the show of support from his "mates," particularly that eventual winner Tiger Woods showcased the pin when he raised his hat into the air on his 72nd hole that week. "Tiger doesn't do that kind of stuff for anyone, so to see that was incredible. Those guys did something insignificant to them, but it meant the world to me."
As Jarrod began to come out of the cancer doldrums, he and Briony found themselves spending tons of time together at home, something they weren't used to with Jarrod's heavy travel as a professional golfer. Briony returned to work for a short time, leaving Jarrod at home to tend to Lusi's every need, albeit playing dolls for eight hours or watching different cartoons.
"His fathering skills far outweigh his golfing abilities," Briony said with a huge smile.
But Briony knew something had to give. In the middle of 2013, after doctors had told Jarrod that he was medically fine to play golf again, Briony gave him a firm push back to the course. "It was ridiculous for both of us to be at home," Briony lamented.
Briony encouraged him to sign up for a few tournaments and "give it a go." Results weren't important, it was a test to see if Jarrod still had the drive to compete at the highest of levels.
Conveniently, the Australian Masters was slated for November, giving Jarrod a chance to reconnect with his old swing coach, Sandy Jamieson, to try and get ready. The two hadn't worked together since 2007, mostly due to Jarrod moving to the U.S. to play on the Web.com Tour.
Jamieson first met Jarrod after he came out of the Challenge program, taking him on to help Jarrod attain his goal of being a club pro. But Jamieson found something unique right away – Jarrod's instinctual decision-making, the type that allows you to win the world's biggest golf tournaments.
"I guess he had seen the other side, so he wasn't afraid to commit to things," Jamieson said.
Jarrod's gutsy decision to play one of Australia's finest tournaments as the first step in his comeback was a testament to that unteachable trait.
And it also gave Jarrod, Leuk the Duck, Briony and little Lusi a moment in the spotlight, as Australia and the world of golf stopped to watch Jarrod's first tee ball, a shot that would open up his tear ducts, an affirmation that his journey back to the golf course was complete.
"It was inspirational to say the least," Jamieson said. "But what I saw was the game face right after those tears. His game face came on in that 230-yard walk down the first fairway."
Jarrod would make the cut at Royal Melbourne, but he remained calculated in the starts he'd choose to make, not taking that made cut and running with it. Jarrod has carefully plotted out his course of action so that he doesn't waste his major medical status on the PGA Tour by playing before he is ready.
Now back in the U.S. for just more than two weeks, Jarrod will take the first step toward his Tour return by playing three Web.com Tour events in July and August in Kansas City (on Thursday), Springfield and Knoxville to knock off some more rust and to test his game against the blood-thirsty players on the PGA Tour's version of Triple-A.
"I think it is harder to make a cut on the Web.com Tour. Those guys are playing to get a job, while the guys on the PGA Tour are playing to keep theirs," said Jarrod, who has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 101 starts, earning just under $1.8 million in five seasons.
Jarrod will make his return to the PGA Tour in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Oct. 16, the first of 20 starts he'll have on Tour where he'll need to earn about $285,000 to keep his full-time card after the 2014-15 season.
"If I sat down and didn't play those 20 events, in five years' time I'd kick myself for not doing it," said Jarrod, who practices out of Grand Cypress in Orlando. "If I go out and miss 20 cuts, I can't kick myself for not trying."
Longtime "mate" Robert Allenby, a longtime chairman with his own cancer foundation and a heavy involvement with Challenge, has learned to never count Lyle out.
"There were times (doctors) thought they were going to lose him," said Allenby, recalling the darkest days in 2012. "I kept getting text messages and a couple of phone calls saying it wasn't looking very good. Then all of a sudden, five days later, he'd pull through.
"He defied the odds."
And so begins a new journey for the Lyles, one that they will experience from the comforts of a newly-purchased, 45-foot RV that will afford them home-cooked meals, the open roads of the U.S. and the ability to tuck their red-headed bundle of energy into a king-sized bed every night.
We're sure pops will be sleeping with one eye open.