ST. LOUIS -- When Rickie Fowler learned that Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle had died, he decided that the blue shirt he was scripted to wear for the first round of the PGA Championship would not suffice. So Fowler switched to a yellow version to honor Lyle, 36, who died in Australia on Wednesday after battling cancer three times.
Fowler, 29, had been one of a few golfers Lyle called in recent days. Lyle had returned home from the hospital after deciding to no longer fight the illness.
Not only did Fowler wear a different shirt Thursday, he made Lyle's trademark "Leuk the Duck" pin prominent on the front of his hat. The pin has been associated with an organization called Challenge that supports children with cancer. Lyle, who was first diagnosed as a teenager, was a big backer of the program.
"It was tough news yesterday," said Fowler, who shot 65 at Bellerive Country Club to take the first-round lead. "Definitely happy we could be here and supporting Jarrod. It's been a tough few weeks, especially talking with the guys that were close with Jarrod.
"I was lucky enough to be able to talk with him last Friday, so one thing that did help is hearing how he felt. He sounded like he was in a good spot. Obviously that's not something that's easy to deal with. And it's been fun to be thinking about him while we're out there playing because he probably would be the one to kind of kick you in the butt if you started feeling sad or bad. He would give you a hard time and tell you to man up or something along those lines."
Fowler made six birdies and a bogey over the Bellerive course to put himself in position to win his first major championship. He has eight top-5s in majors without a victory; only Lee Westwood, Harry Cooper and Jay Haas have more without winning one of the game's biggest tournaments.
"If you hit fairways and greens, it's not hard," said Fowler, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens. "But it is playing fairly long and you kind of have to pick and choose which holes you kind of maybe play aggressive on. You start driving it in the rough, missing greens, start scrambling, I feel like that's where the bogeys come."
Several players have donated to a fund set up to help Lyle's wife, Briony, and their two young daughters.
"I lived across the street from him when he first started out in Orlando," Day, who is two shots back after a 67, said of Lyle. "He's a good buddy of mine. Obviously heart-breaking to see. I've known Jarrod for a long time.
"He battled half his life. And the crazy thing is he was always upbeat and positive. No matter what you did, you could be playing terrible, and if you're playing golf with him, you always walked off the golf course happy. For him to get first diagnosed when he was 17 years old and then battled three times it just goes to show how much of a fighter he was inside, to be able to keep pushing on even though it is painful to go through the stuff that he went through."