Tearful: Jason Day of Australia paid tribute to Jarrod Lyle

St. Louis (AFP) - Jason Day fought back tears Thursday after his opening round of the PGA Championship, heartbroken at the death of his friend Jarrod Lyle, the former tour player who died Wednesday.

“It’s hard because you sit there and you know him and he’s a buddy of yours, and he’s not there anymore,” Day said. “He’s never going to come back. That’s the hardest thing to sort of come by. Now I’m tearing up.”

Many players teed off with a heavy heart at Bellerive Country Club after learning Lyle lost his battle with leukemia at age 36.

The Australian was diagnosed twice with blood cancer as a youth and twice thought he had beaten it only to have it return last year.

“I’ve known Jarrod a long time,” fellow Aussie Day said. “I lived across the street from him when we first started out in Orlando. He’s a good buddy of mine. It’s obviously heartbreaking to see.”

In recalling Lyle’s life, 2015 PGA winner Day noted his friend’s determination to make the most of life, fighting to enjoy every possible day.

“He battled half his life. And the crazy thing is he was always upbeat and positive,” Day said.

“For him to first get diagnosed with it when he was 17 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.

“He impacted a lot of people. There are a lot of people out there that are sick and have probably the same thing going on. So for people to hear his story and know he fought on for a long time and lived a good life and had two kids and had a good loving wife, that’s a lot of positive to come out of a story like that.”

Tiger Woods, a 14-time major winner, keenly felt the loss from golf’s touring brotherhood.

Colour tribute: Rickie Fowler

“It’s a tough loss,” Woods said. “It’s sad. He’s one of us. He’s a player. It’s always tough when you see one of us struggle. Now to see his kids without a dad. It’s going to be tough times for all of us.”

Rickie Fowler, who fired a five-under 65 to lead by two strokes over Day and a host of others, switched from his planned blue shirt to a yellow one as a tribute to Lyle, known for the color.

“Really the last few weeks, we’ve all been thinking about Jarrod a lot,” Fowler said. “So I was scripted to wear dark blue today. That definitely immediately changed last night.”

- ‘Bittersweet’ feelings -

Fowler said Lyle would not want friends to cry in remembering him.

“It’s definitely tough,” Fowler said. “Jarrod wouldn’t want us out here feeling sorry for him or feeling bad or anything. He’d probably come out here and kick us in the butt and tell us to man up and go have some fun.

“So it’s a little bit kind of bittersweet. 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.”

Fowler spoke with Lyle last week.

“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,” Fowler said. “He sounded like he was in a good spot. Obviously that’s not something that’s easy to deal with.

“It has been enjoyable celebrating his life and we’ll continue to do that.”