16 Aug 2021 | Feature stories |

#BigFella40 | The Aussie larrikin

by Contributor

Jarrod Lyle holds his daughter and gives a big thumbs up.

By Ben Everill

To celebrate what would have been Jarrod Lyle’s 40th birthday, Challenge and the PGA have asked Jarrod’s family, friends, colleagues, and the infinite people he influenced, to share their favourite stories of the affable Tour Professional.

I’m not going to lie.

The first time I sat down to write something about Jarrod Lyle to commemorate the great man on what would have been his 40th birthday, a few raw expletives spilled onto the page.

It was written from a place of love. And those who were close with Jarrod and understand the traditional ways of Australian male bonding would likely understand why I would speak that way.

But one incredible woman I know – one of the strongest anyone could ever encounter – indirectly reminded me that I have a very important job to do. It’s a job not mine alone – but one for all of us who knew Jarrod. A job not directly asked of us, but one it is my absolute duty, and pleasure, to uphold.

It is our job to make sure his two beautiful daughters get a full and accurate picture of their father. And Jarrod might have been an Aussie larrikin – but it wasn’t all he was. He might have said a few choice words with me and others at times – but he never wasted his words. They ALL had meaning.

If he was around today, I’m sure I would have tried to come up with a clever way to wish him happy birthday. Some attempt at cutting personal humour I’d have spent hours cooking up. But upon delivery he would’ve volleyed it right back with something much better, completely off the cuff. 

And now that I think about it – I could have used Jarrod’s wise words a few months back on my own 40th. 

I can see it now. I was in quarantine in a London airport hotel prior to the Open Championship and put out a social media post bemoaning that fact a little. Jarrod would not have let that slide without (rightfully) absolutely smashing me.

You see it’s been a rough couple years for most of us amongst this awful pandemic. And we are in a legitimate fight against it both physically and mentally. But Jarrod would always have a way of putting things into perspective.

He’d have reminded me it could have been much worse. And complaining about it wasn’t going to solve anything. He’d have said put your gloves on and fight. Find the positive side of the situation under all circumstances and tell the negative to get stuffed.

And he’d have been right.

Sitting in a hotel room for five days doesn’t even minutely compare to what that man went through in just one minute of his life post his first diagnosis with cancer as a teenager. My head needed to be pulled out of my backside. I could’ve used Jarrod to help with that.

Truth is I miss being put in my place by my mate. I miss it because no one could say blunter things yet clearly do so from a place of love and friendship. He could make you laugh so hard you’d cry, and later when you got the true meaning behind his words, you’d be hard-pressed not crying again for a more emotional reason. I miss having him tell it like it is.

But there was so much more to him than candid words. Jarrod was the one who should have needed others. He was the one who battled and beat cancer three times. Yet he was the one always putting others needs ahead of his own.

I was covering Australian golfers on the PGA TOUR as a journalist when I found out about Jarrod’s second bout with leukemia from another source just days before his first daughter was due. I had to make a call to get confirmation. He picked up, at 7am, and apologised for not telling me sooner.

HE APOLOGISED TO ME.

Ridiculous. I didn’t care who had the story first. I didn’t want the story to even exist. But here he was, worried about me.

He apologised to me again during another interview at the Australian Open years later after he was fronting up for his third fight. This time it was because Lusi ran over and wanted a hug and to play.

Seriously. I’ve never wrapped up a chat quicker. Who was I to take even a second away from his time with his three beautiful girls?

There are plenty of golf highlights I could point to when it comes to my time knowing Jarrod. His ace at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was certainly awesome. His success at Q-School in Palm Springs was another cool week for me as was his T4 at Riviera right before he was diagnosed the second time. But I remember, and miss, the other moments more.

I miss watching him change a nappy (diaper) next to a putting green.

I miss the chats we had before and after the tape recorder went on or off.

I miss the public roastings at PGA TOUR practice areas that hammered me but also helped me become accepted by the other Aussie players at the same time. Often after those moments came the dinner invites that showed he didn’t perceive any professional barrier between us.

I miss watching him knock people down a peg or two if they lost sight of their kindness.

I miss seeing the countless smiles he brought to kids with cancer as they faced unthinkable battles. Battles he proved to them all could sometimes be beaten.

But most of all I miss the trust he had in me. He would call a spade a shovel and a flog a flog without a second thought of what I could do with his words in my profession. I would try to soften things on occasion but on others he insisted I tell it like he did, even if I had reservations.

On what would have been his 40th birthday, I feel heavy-hearted knowing he should have been here for this and so many more celebrations. But if I force myself to look for the positives, as Jarrod insisted many times over, the truth is the number is irrelevant now.

Because in my mind – Jarrod is immortal. His legacy lives on.

He’s in Lusi and Jemma. He’s in Briony. He’s in all of us who knew him and now he’s in thousands of people who never had that pleasure but who have been inspired by his life. We must continue to give him life in the generations to come.

The world needs more of us to be like Jarrod. To find the fun and the positives amongst the invariable struggles of life. And to let those who choose negativity know there’s a better way.

Happy Birthday old mate. We miss you.

To find out more about Jarrod’s ongoing legacy as part of Challenge – supporting kids with cancer, head to challenge.org.au/jarrods-gift/

Ben Everill is a golf writer at PGATOUR.com

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