A tap on the yellow bucket hat on Saturday said it all.
As Rickie Fowler’s four-shot lead evaporated in spectacular fashion on the 11th hole of the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he quickly regained his composure and perspective and began to right a rapidly sinking ship.
Because he knows.
One of the most visible and resolute supporters of the Lyle family since the passing of Jarrod last August, Fowler knows that for him, life will go on.
A ball rolling back into a lake for a second penalty on the one hole is hard to take, but in the context of life’s greater meaning, a sudden onset of social media frenzy about a collapse the day after Johnny Miller’s retirement from the commentary booth just as quickly fades away.
Wearing the ‘Leuk the Duck’ pin in his cap – as he has done in every tournament appearance since Lyle’s passing – by the time Fowler reached the iconic par-3 16th and the plaque commemorating Lyle’s ace there eight years ago, the resilience many had questioned now resembled reinforced steel.
“Life’s a lot bigger than the day-to-day stuff,” said an emotional Fowler who was able to celebrate a win with his father, Rod, and grandfather, Yutaka, for the first time.
“Trophies are great and all – I’ve wanted to win here for 11 years – but sitting there on 11 with things definitely not going my way, if we happen to finish second, third, fourth, the sun’s going to come up tomorrow.
“I always think of Jarrod Lyle. I’ve got the Leuk the Duck pin and especially with the Thunderbirds and what they did with the plaque on 16, he’s always with me. He’s along for the ride.
“I’m in a position where I want to kind of help continue on his legacy. Jarrod wanted to be able to help families and kids that were dealing with stuff similar to what he went through so his wife and I are going to work on some stuff moving forward of what we can do and ultimately keeping Jarrod’s name alive.
“It’s things like that that help put life in perspective.”
Starting the final round with a four-shot buffer over Matt Kuchar and five ahead of good friend Justin Thomas, Fowler made double-bogey at the par-4 fifth before disaster struck at 11.
Short and right of the green with his tee shot, a pitch that skidded forward rolled into the lake off the back of the green but that was just the beginning of the drama.
After taking his penalty drop, Fowler walked up the embankment to survey the shot ahead of him only to turn and see his ball roll back into the water without being touched.
He incurred a second penalty stroke and then chipped 17 feet past the hole, making the return putt for a triple-bogey seven.
“It was a really good triple,” Fowler joked.
Fowler had putts for eagle at both 15 and 17 that he converted into birdies for a two-shot win over South African Branden Grace, the fifth US PGA Tour title of his career.
Besides Lyle’s golf bag taking pride of place on the 16th tee on Saturday the Australian representation on the weekend was left to Cameron Smith. Rounds of 67-65 put Smith in position to contend over the closing two rounds but as conditions toughened Smith struggled to keep pace. A birdie at the par-3 fourth was a positive start to his final round but a bogey at the seventh and double-bogey at nine kept the top of the leaderboard at arm’s reach, two back-nine birdies contributing to a tie for 15th, his second consecutive top-15 finish.