Date: June 16, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes, Oakmont

Leish finally up for US Open challenge

US Opens are tough enough when you’re upbeat about your game.

The unrivalled challenge they provide can break even those in perfect tune with their swing.

So imagine Marc Leishman’s plight in his previous four appearances in the USGA’s annual torture test when he arrived with his “B game” and a noggin full of misgivings.

Unlike many stats, the three missed cuts, a T51 at Congressional in 2011 and a scoring average of 74.4 strokes per round tell the complete story.

But 2016 is different.

Very different.

The Warrnambool ace has walked through the gates of the potentially savage Oakmont Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh an entirely different proposition.

More importantly, he knows it, too.

“Definitely. The new Callaway driver is a game changer. I’m excited about that because it’s tough to play US Opens from the rough, especially here,” he beamed after a sharp final practice round.

“Hopefully I can get it on the short grass and go from there. I do feel like my game’s in a good spot. Mentally I’m in a better spot. I’ve always been fairly negative going into US Opens – it’s hard to say that, to be honest – but I have been, so I really want to make a conscious effort to change that this week.

“There are going to be bogeys still, and probably doubles, although hopefully not too many,” he said with a broad grin.

“On a golf course like this, you don’t have to do too much wrong and the bogeys can come. But if you hit good shots in the right spot, the birdies can come out here, too.

“So just stay positive, not get too aggressive but in the right situation, you still need to be a bit aggressive.”

Leishman, 32, came within a shot of a life-changing victory at The Open Championship at St Andrews last year, eventually succumbing alongside Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff to Zach Johnson.

But the lessons he took away could prove invaluable as early as this weekend.

“If I get back in that situation, I’ll be better for it,” he said.

“I was so close to winning that – just one shot – and if you look back over the course of a week, you can find a lot of shots.

“So if I can play smart, not waste too many shots, but mentally I feel like can compete in one of these (majors).”

So while a world ranking of 40 means he’s not yet constantly in the conversation with Messrs Day, Spieth and McIlroy, the affable Victorian knows he’s not far removed.

“Obviously they have proven themselves – but I feel like when I’m on I can match it with those guys.

“But they tend to have their best (game) fairly frequently and I want to have my best fairly frequently in the coming years and it would be nice to start that this week.”

So for the first time in five US Opens, Leishman has a mindset to contend, not just compete.

“If I can play well, there is no reason why I can’t win it.

“I have played well in majors before and this is one that I haven’t played well in so I really want to change that.

“Where my game’s at, I feel like there is a good chance it will change this week. I am excited about it.

“It will be brutally tough, but if you have a good head on your shoulders this week, it’s going to be really important (and) I feel like that’s improved in me as well in the last year.”