Rickie Fowler Honors Aussie Lyle, Fires 65 in Round 1 at PGA Championship

[USATSI]
Written by Kyle Porter

ST. LOUIS — PGA Tour pro Jarrod Lyle passed away at the age of 36 earlier this week. The Australian left behind two daughters (😢) as he succumbed to a several-years battle with leukemia.

“Lusi, Jemma and I are filled with grief and now must confront our lives without the greatest husband and father we could ever have wished for,” his wife Briony said in a statement.

“At the same time, we have been blessed and overwhelmed with the messages and actions of support from around the world and feel comforted that Jarrod was able to happily impact so many people throughout his life. Our humble thanks to you all.”

One of those who offered support was former Poke Rickie Fowler who is currently second at the PGA Championship after Round 1. Rick shot a 5-under 65 in the first round (one back of leader Gary Woodland) and said he changed his shirt from blue to yellow to match the yellow bucket hat Lyle was known for wearing. He also wore a pin on his hat to honor the former Tour player.

“Really the last few weeks, especially last week and this week, we’ve all been thinking about Jarrod a lot,” said Fowler after his round. “So I was scripted to wear dark blue today. That definitely immediately changed last night. Last week I had the pin somewhere on the side. This is front and center.

“You also think about it as far as Jarrod wouldn’t want us out here feeling sorry for him or feeling bad or anything. You’d probably come out here and kick us in the butt and tell us to man up and go have some fun.”

There was plenty of fun on Thursday as Fowler led the field in strokes gained tee to green and led the event after the morning wave finished before Woodland overtook him in the afternoon.

We have of course been here before with Fowler, and there’s a long way to go. But after his round he sounded … different than he has in the past. Does that mean he’s going to win? No, but I’m fascinated to see how it unfolds over the final 54 holes.

The part of Fowler’s game that has always most frustrated me is also the part that will lead to his first major championship. He is stubborn to a fault — with his routines, his rhythms and his game plans. That rigid discipline sometimes doesn’t lead to him going for broke late in tournaments, but it’s likely going to be a boon at some point when everybody plays their way out of a tournament and he’s there to clean up the spoils.

Fowler’s 65 was his third such round in majors so far this year. He shot 65-67 at Augusta on the weekend and, uh, 84-65 on the weekend at the U.S. Open. He said on Thursday that nothing really changes.

“You can’t force the issue,” said Fowler. “It relates to some of our game plan and how we’re going about this week as far as just trying to play within ourselves and not do anything extra special. I don’t have to play special to win.”

That’s true of most of the top players, but what he can’t do is make the big mistake. It happened in the first round of the PGA last year at Quail Hollow when he tripled the par-4 5th hole. At Carnoustie this year he tripled the par-5 6th. Not exactly breaking news, but it’s tough to win majors with triples or worse on the card.

On Thursday, Fowler made just two putts over 8 feet. A 11-footer for birdie and a 14-footer for birdie. His bogey was a failed sand save on a 10-foot putt. Everything else was, for him anyway, a lay up. The definition of stress-free golf.

We’ll see if it holds. Fowler is surrounded by stars and superstars on every side. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Cantlay are all well within striking distance. And even if it goes poorly. Even if he loses by 10 or by three or in a playoff, Fowler noted on Thursday that even though this week is about the golf, nothing is ever really just about the golf.

“So it’s a little bit kind of bittersweet,” Fowler said of Lyle. “You’re trying to go out there and keep living life like he did, but it’s unfortunate that he’s not here with us.

“I was lucky enough to be able to talk to him last Friday, so one thing that did help is hearing kind of from him how he felt. He sounded like he was in a good spot. Obviously that’s not something that’s easy to deal with. It’s been enjoyable celebrating his life and we’ll continue to do that.”