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CHANCES are you haven’t heard of DAVID ROGERS. And he’s just fine with that. As chief executive officer of the Challenge organisation – a decades-old charity supporting kids with cancer – Rogers is as self-effacing as he is committed to his cause. He spared some time to sit down and discuss his close friendship with the late Jarrod Lyle, his plans to use golf to spread a message of hope worldwide, and the time Lyle stitched him up at an Australian Open.

Dave, thanks very much for sitting down with us and having a chat. I just want to talk a little bit first about Challenge and how that idea came about. It started back in ’83?

Yeah 1983, so I got involved in ’88 and back then it was just one camp and obviously medicine was different then to what it is today. So kids spent long periods of time in hospital but everyone was concerned about the child who was sick and about getting them better and they forgot about who they were.

And so one of the things that we worked on was looking at who they were before they got sick and making sure that their brothers and sisters and mums and dads were supported. That’s how Challenge sort of took off from there.

That’s one of the really different things about your charity is that you have a real focus on the family as well. I noticed you have date nights or dinners for the parents; who came up with that idea?

A lot of the ideas have stemmed from me listening to the parents and the kids. And it was like divorce is 60 per cent [for couples] with kids with cancer – you can understand that with the pressures on the family. So, date night was a winner straight away because it was – well, you don’t have to think about it. This is where you need to be, go there, enjoy yourself, hopefully have some good chat time and then it may spark just some new life into a relationship.

Golf has played a pretty significant role with Challenge. Challenge has played a significant role with golf as well. But before we go down that track, did you play golf yourself?

I played a little bit of golf, nothing serious. I liked the game but I think the way it came about was that Brad Robinson, ex-Aussie Crawl [Australian Crawl] guitarist, called. Brad was a board member here and he was working at Octagon and was doing some golf – managing some golf, and one of those people he was managing at the time was Rob Allenby coming into his foray and that was how we initiated a conversation.

So that’s how Rob came to be a part of it?

Yeah. Rob was young and I don’t think celebrities or professional sportsmen aligned themselves with people [back then] and we said to Rob, look, we’d love to have you involved. And that meant not only just having a golf day, it meant obviously working with the kids as well, so he liked that.

And that golf day has been going for 30 years now.

Yeah, I know – that’s a long time trying to change it up and trying to do things different. We started with a morning group and lunch in the car park at Yarra Yarra [Golf Club]. Now [we have] morning and afternoon [fields] and dinner at Crown, so it’s value for money. We’ve had some of the biggest names in golf at the event.

It used to operate straight after the Australian Open and so we had the winner – we had Aaron Baddeley there one morning, we’ve had Stuart [Appleby] there, we’ve had Ian Baker-Finch, we’ve had Rickie Fowler.

It’s good to see it’s now getting a bit of a push on the PGA Tour. I know Rickie’s been on board with it for probably longer than a lot of people realise. How big has he been for getting that Challenge message out on the bigger tour?

Yeah I think that only came about because of Jarrod [Lyle]. So I met Jazz when he was 17, and he was a kid that said, “I like golf”. I didn’t know that he was as good as he was but he was always a very humble guy.

And so I organised for Jazz to do some things around golf. I then watched him and I used to walk around golf courses – which isn’t necessarily my cup of tea – but no, enjoyed watching them walk around and I saw Jazz sort of knocking on the door, but was never really right there.

And then he had an outstanding year and got into the Eisenhower and played there and then said, “I’m going to become a professional”. I said, “What does that mean?” He goes, “Just means I’m no longer an amateur and I’ve become professional”. I said, “Well do you need a manager?” He said, “Yeah”, and so I did some deals for him and the rest is history.

Rickie played his first professional game of golf with Jarrod.

Do you remember when that was?

I’m not sure what the actual event was but they played together and that’s where they became mates. And that’s how Rickie got involved because Jarrod was one of those blokes that if you became mates, you’re a mate.

You obviously knew Jarrod for a long time. You were pretty close to him.

Yeah, very close. I travelled the journey from sickness to being healthy to getting married to having kids – which he never thought he’d have – to the ins and outs of everything that a professional sportsman has to deal with. You know, ‘Am I good enough? Is this the end of the road?’.

So when Jazz got sick the second time it was obviously – he was playing great golf – and I sort of look at Jarrod as he probably would have been in the same league as Marc Leishman is now. They were pennant players together at Commonwealth [Golf Club], Marc and Jarrod.

So there were all these analogies but his illness took control of him a little bit. And then when he came back; I don’t think that he ever thought that he would actually make it back on the tour.

It was pretty amazing when he did.

It was. It was amazing from a whole range of issues to watch him do that and then to see his friends and his mutual participants on the PGA Tour get behind him as they did, spared him on to try and do greatness again.

When we lost Jarrod back in August (’18) obviously the golf community, anyone who ever met him especially out on the golf course had fond memories of him. At the risk of opening fresh wounds, how big a loss is he not just personally but for your charity?

Personally he’s a huge loss. Jazz used to come in here on a regular basis, walk in with his Diet Coke because he was an addict, sit down in the office, cross the leg over and just “G’day mate, how’s it going?” And he would come in here and there were always things to do he would jump in there and get it done.

So he was very hands on.

Very hands on, very hands on. So he’s been a huge loss that way. But if we had a golf day or if we had something going on, it wasn’t a question of ‘can you do it?’, it was a question of ‘where do you want me to be and when?’

That’s very rare. Especially that he played that much golf, did he really want to go and hit balls for someone else? But it was more than just a job, I think Jazz was all about, ‘I’m doing this because I had this situation happen to me and if I can help other families through the journey then I will’.

“WHAT’S PROBABLY SADDENED ME A LITTLE BIT… IS THAT IT HAD TO BE THAT JARROD DIED FOR PEOPLE TO SEE LEUK THE DUCK THE WAY IT SHOULD BE AND THE DIFFERENCE IT CAN MAKE.”

He was a stalwart at the Rob Allenby Challenge golf days obviously. I was lucky enough to play in a couple of those. But last year, it was a pretty nice to see we could have a beer with Jarrod still. I know it was a more sombre feeling than in previous years but at the same time, it was pretty nice that 15th hole which he made his own –he had a couple of holes-in-one there –

Yeah, on the same day.

He hit two holes-in-one and put the challenge out to anybody else who came that if you can do that then you can be head of the mantle.

I think ‘Have a beer with Jazz’ was important.

Look, within the organisation he’s been a huge loss because, as I said, he was committed to making a difference and that came about for a number of reasons. With Leuk the Duck, for example, Rob had sort of helped pioneer the Duck out there in the golf world – he was already doing stuff behind the scenes here at Challenge. But then Jarrod took on that mantle and the year Jarrod got sick the second time you had people like Tiger Woods who doesn’t wear a pin, doesn’t do anything for anybody – I’m not saying that in a negative way.

But [the point is] they were all wearing pins that whole year. Anybody who won a tournament had a Leuk the Duck pin on, and it was all because of Jazz. They wanted to show their support for him. And what they didn’t really actually realise was that not only were they showing support for him, that they were actually doing a lot more for people who were less fortunate, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

You’re not an organisation that’s purely about golf, but has golf been a positive connector of different industries to help with the charity?

Yeah, one of the things that golf does is it gets corporates to get out there because they like to do it.

And call it work…

Not really a lot. I work a lot, I’ve got a family and I’ve obviously got to look at turning that around a little bit because the work-life balance is – well, I push that out to other people but I probably don’t do that myself.

But the organisation is growing and with that more time is need.

I feel the hands-on aspect of the way I’ve run Challenge over the years has been that people want to see the boss, they want to see the guy that is in charge and that means they feel I think their event is important.

That’s the challenge at the present stage. Again people say, ‘Why don’t you employ more people?’. If we employ more people, you’ve got to find more money for these things.

Yeah, call it work. It did change for a while because corporates were all getting into riding bikes and so I was concerned for a while, but they’ve come back to the golf world which is great. It’s a great connector and we’ve been able to use that as a way of building our association with other organisations – we’ve been very fortunate that way.

Am I right in saying you guys don’t get any government funding?

No government funding.

How on earth do you provide such a – I don’t want to get political and get you in any trouble – but how do you provide such an important service without any backing? I suppose that makes those corporates even more important.

It does. I think we’ve used a model which people take for granted in that people think that charities are poor, or they should be managed in a poor way. We’ve taken it as we’re not for profit organisation and we’ve got to be the best at what we do wherever we do it. So that’s been our model of choice.

So when we get a partner on board we try and say, ‘What is it that you want to achieve out of this partnership?’ We’re very clear about what the partnership is and hopefully at the end we both we both feel that we’ve actually made a difference. That’s been the challenge and golf has provided the Challenge organisation with a vehicle that’s allowed us to raise some funds.

And if we’re smart and we’re able to do what we want to do with Leuk the Duck, it could allow us to raise significant funds that we can do all the programs we want to do, but also assist other people overseas as well.

So Leuk has become quite an iconic symbol for what you guys are doing. Do you have plans to take that globally?

Yeah, we do. We’d really love to take it globally and that’s really hard because we want to ring up a charity overseas and say, ‘Here, we’ve got this great product. We know it works and it’s going to raise you heaps of money’, and people go, ‘What’s in it for you?’

What’s in it for us is that we see something we know works and is going to make a difference. I remember sitting down with some people that you’d know and talking about Leuk the Duck and Jarrod and saying , “We’re going to take it internationally”, and it was like ‘How do we do it?’

What’s probably saddened me a little bit – and I’m going to get a little bit political – is that it had to be that Jarrod died for people to see Leuk the Duck the way it should be and the difference it can make.

Do you see that as an expansion of Challenge itself or Leuk as a symbol for cancers?

No, I see it as an expansion of Leuk assisting cancer. So that’s a big difference there. Some people will say, “Does Challenge go along with that?”. My view is Challenge is Australia-based and as such it should help Australian kids. Leuk can be internationally-based and can help kids in America and it can help kids in Europe and so forth.

So it would be great if Rory put the pin on there and said, ‘I’m going to support European kids’ and Rickie has done a great job and said, ‘I’m going to put the pin on and hopefully money from here will support American kids’. So that’s the goal.

We’ll rally them and get them on board. I’ve heard you do a lot of things around here. In fact you’re one of the more hands-on CEOs we’re going to find in pretty much any job, so I’m told. I hear you’re really good at carrying bags as well?

Yes, I carried [Jarrod’s] bag twice.

That was an Australian tournament, wasn’t it?

It was the Australian Open down at Moonah Links and it rained from the first hole through to the 17th and sleeted. Jazz didn’t wear a glove, so I had to make sure that his hands were dry, and it was coming in [sideways].

I think I had about maybe 10 towels, and I had one up my jumper and I said, “Jazz is this what we do?” He says, “As long as you keep my hands dry, I don’t really care.”

I had the umbrella, I had the bag and I kept saying, “Geez, this bag’s getting heavy,” and he said, “Stop complaining, Dave”.

We got the end and he opened up the zip and he said, “Oh, I’ve got six dozen balls in there.”

“Oh, thanks for that buddy.” And the bag was wet and it was heavy and I said to him, “If you could hit the ball straight and we didn’t to have to walk everywhere it wouldn’t have been so bad”.

Was it a bit of a stitch up?

Yeah, it was. I think he stitched me up very well.

It was his sense of humour, right?

It was his sense of humour. The next day the bag was far lighter and I said, “Oh much appreciated”. We played with Bubba Watson that year, which was fascinating to watch. That was one of my highlights in my life, I didn’t know what I was doing but I enjoyed the experience.

I then did it again for a second time at the New South Wales Open and I had a great time. I said to Jazz one time, “Maybe get the 3-wood out and pop it on”. He says, “I think it’s a bit far”. Got the 3-wood out, put it on the green and I said, “Maybe this is the job for me moving forward”. He said, “I don’t think so”.

So you don’t play a lot of golf yourself. What do you do to unwind? What’s your release?

Not really a lot. I work a lot, I’ve got a family and I’ve obviously got to look at turning that around a little bit because the work-life balance is – well, I push that out to other people but I probably don’t do that myself.

But the organisation is growing and with that more time is need.

I feel the hands-on aspect of the way I’ve run Challenge over the years has been that people want to see the boss, they want to see the guy that is in charge and that means they feel I think their event is important.

That’s the challenge at the present stage. Again people say, ‘Why don’t you employ more people?’. If we employ more people, you’ve got to find more money for these things.

As far as mentally draining occupations go, you’ve got one of the more emotional, and tricky ones going around. How do you do it? A lot of people sit back and look at you in awe – without blowing smoke –it’s really impressive to someone on the outside. How do you manage that yourself when you see so much sadness as well as some pretty positive outcomes?

Yes, that’s been tough. I went to a funeral last weekend. There was a Dr Seuss quote that said, ‘sometimes you don’t recognise the moment until it becomes a memory’. And I think that’s a very powerful message and I think that I look at the moments and I take them and I go, ‘Wow! Look what we achieved.’

So from last week taking five kids to meet Kylie and seeing the kids’ faces and then getting text messages back saying, “This is their first concert, what an experience. You’ve given us the push to actually live life”, you go, “OK, I’ve ticked that box”.

I think if that’s all you achieve out of the exercise then we haven’t done a bad job. It’s very hard to measure your success here – you just have to look at the moment that you achieve.

My moment with Jarrod was obviously meeting him and then saying to him, “If you want to be a professional golfer that’s a choice you have to make”.

So we did some things with that. Sandy Jamieson coached Jarrod for a year for free to give him the opportunity.

At Commonwealth?

Yeah. He gave him coaching for a year for free to give him the opportunity to be the golfer he wanted to be. If you looked at Jazz and said, ‘He’s going to be a professional golfer’, you would have said, ‘I don’t think so’, because he was big.

Yeah. He gave him coaching for a year for free to give him the opportunity to be the golfer he wanted to be. If you looked at Jazz and said, ‘He’s going to be a professional golfer’, you would have said, ‘I don’t think so’, because he was big.

In the era of athletes coming through…

I used to always laugh when people would to say to me when Jazz was sick, “I didn’t realise how tall he was”. And I used to say to Jazz, “What they’re actually saying is they didn’t realise you were fat beforehand”. And he goes, “You are such a harsh man.”

I would say, “No, that’s the reality of the question”. But I think everything about him made him the individual he was and I think he was just this big guy who had a dream and we helped to solicit that dream.

Last year you received a Medal of Australia honour – an AOM. I know you get a little bit bashful about that sort of stuff.

Yeah.

That kind of recognition must make you feel proud that you’re doing the right thing and you’ve done it for a long time.

It was a very proud moment to receive it. I don’t know whether I have ever had the actual pin out, which is probably a little bit…

There’s only one pin that really matters, right?

Yes. I would like to think the pin that I have, which is the Leuk [The Duck] pin, if that is able to be successful then I’ll feel like I’ve been successful.

One of the funny things about golfers is we have very little perspective. Out on course we’ll get upset by a three-putt, we’ll be upset that we can’t hit a fairway. You know Phil [our business development manager] well. Phil rarely hits a fairway and gets quite upset.

Yes, I know.

You must have a lot more perspective than most people.

Yeah, I have. Sweating the small things is something that I probably do more than I should because I think that’s just human nature, but I think looking at it from the perspective of life and death on a daily basis, yeah, my perspective is you’ve just got to get out there, enjoy what you have, and that you can actually go out there and hit a golf ball and enjoy that experience, even though Phil doesn’t do it very well…

Not even close.

Not even close. I think that’s still enjoyment for everyone else to watch.

In terms of going forward, what can just an ordinary golfer do to help support Challenge or get the message out there?

Look if a golfer wants to purchase a pin or we’re looking in August this year, hopefully to have golf courses around Australia ‘Do It For Jarrod’, which will then be Jarrod’s gift to the rest of the world. We’ll be doing it for Jarrod, so a normal comp day [with a] gold coin donation. Ladies on the Wednesday, men on the Saturday. We’ll get as many golf courses involved as possible, then the ‘Do It For Jarrod’ will be great and Jarrod’s gift will continue long into the future.

And with the hashtag #doingitforjarrod which is taking on a life of its own on social media.

It has. So the ‘Do It For Jarrod’, the outcome of that will be that Jarrod’s gift will continue, that his gift that he used to come in here and do on a daily basis.

Well Dave, thanks very much for coming in and having a chat with us. You’re an inspiration a lot of people and keep doing what you’re doing, it’s greatly appreciated by the wider community. All the best and hopefully in golf we can do something to keep continuing Jarrod’s legacy but also the Challenge legacy.

Oh, thank you. Ø

To find out more about Challenge – supporting kids with cancer, click here…