COMMENT: Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle might have become a household name had he not been afflicted by acute myeloid leukaemia. Instead he became one because he was.

But Lyle's notoriety came not just because he has been struck down three times by a debilitating and soon-to-be-fatal condition. It is the incredibly open, honest and even generous way he has dealt with an intensely debilitating illness throughout a still accomplished career that has touched so many.

You might say the 36 year-old Lyle has "fought bravely", although some cancer sufferers dislike the assertion the illness presents a test of courage.

They argue that cancer is not a burning house. You don't get to choose whether to run into the flames to save a life. Once it taps you on the shoulder, you have no choice but to do your best.


But if every sufferer reacts in their own way, Lyle's struggle has been inspiring. Not merely because he has risen from his sick bed and returned to the practice range, but in the manner he has shared his story - chemo and all - to help others.

Lyle, from the Victorian country town of Shepparton, first suffered cancer as a 17-year-old promising amateur. Subsequently he became associated with fellow Australian Robert Allenby and his Challenge Cancer charity.

I first met Lyle at the Challenge charity golf day. What struck me about the burly country boy was how the disease had not drained his spirit but increased his lust for life.

From the size of his galleries, it seemed everyone who met Lyle or heard his story followed his progress closely, cheering on the friendly kid who had survived his brush with death. There were tears when he finished third at the 2005 Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne, a result that propelled his professional career.

I next saw Lyle at the 2006 British Open after his practice round with Allenby. Standing near the 18th green, he joked about how much happier he was to see Allenby at Royal Liverpool than when they first met in a cancer ward.

"I was flat on my back with cords and pipes coming out of me from everywhere," said Lyle. "I had that many drugs pumped through me, I don't remember a hell of a lot of it."

This was the context in which we observed Lyle's playing feats. His rise to the US PGA Tour, his two victories on the secondary Nationwide Tour, his hole-in-one on the infamous Stadium Hole at the Phoenix Open, where the shouts were even louder given Lyle's well-known back story.

Lyle was struck down again by leukaemia in 2012. He returned to golf after 18 months of radical treatment. Not quite the player he was, yet still the same ebullient character.


Lyle's great charm is that, through it all, he has never betrayed a hint of self-pity. He has accepted his lot - and defied it - with a sunny disposition that inspires fellow sufferers and just anyone having a bad day.

The last time I saw him was at a relatively minor tournament in Melbourne. He had made the graceful transition from full-time player to devoted husband and father of two daughters. There was no hint of bitterness that he would probably never quite achieve the feats his youthful talent had promised.

It was the image of Lyle the family man as much as that of the wonderful golfer that came to mind when Lyle's wife Briony released a statement on Monday saying Jarrod had gone into palliative care. Time had run out. The treatment was worse than the disease. He needed to be home with his family for the final days.

The scope of public grieving for athletes is usually in proportion to their feats. But if Lyle's professional resume is relatively modest, the sense of impending loss has been profound.

Masters champion Adam Scott reportedly sat in a locker room and wept upon hearing the news. US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy cursed aloud. Lyle's popularity far outweighed his place in the game's pecking order.

Yet, typically, we had not heard the last of Lyle. From his sick bed, he recorded a brief interview in which he characterised himself as "the luckiest golfer going around" and thanked everyone who had touched him from his fellow professionals to the tournament marshals.

Even in his final days, Lyle was sharing his story, his struggles and somehow making others feel better even as he suffered.

That's why, when the hour comes, a big bloke who never lifted the Auld Claret Jug or wore the Masters green jacket will be remembered as one of golf's true champions.