Date: March 20, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

FEATURE: Leish flame as bright as ever

He’s a slow burn, Marc Leishman.

The flame has flickered a couple of times, but it’s never looked like going out.

He’s 33. He loves family. He loves coming home to Warrnambool. He’s a passionate Australian and takes great pride in team, whether it be donning the green and gold, representing the International team at the Presidents Cup, or even talking about his beloved Richmond Tigers.

He’s had best mate Matt Kelly on his bag since they left Victoria’s Western District to go conquer the golfing world.

And, most importantly, he’s got the most sensational partnership with a young American girl named Audrey, the love of his life, their two youngsters, Oliver and Harvey, and a sister to the boys on the way.

These bonds he nurtures make the man known to all as “Leish” relatively bulletproof in terms of his golfing career. It’s not that it doesn’t mean the world to him to succeed, it’s more that it’s all in a perspective that few on the US PGA Tour can rival.

That was tested in the extreme when Audrey nearly lost her life in 2015 to toxic shock syndrome and Leishman made to him the only viable decision – to walk out on a Masters start to be by her side.

Months later, he missed a birdie chance on the 72nd hole at St Andrews that would have won him the Open Championship, then looked on in disbelief as his drive on the first playoff hole finished in a divot that effectively cost him any chance of victory.

Yet through all the highs and lows, if you’d had the good fortune to bump into the gentle giant, you’d barely have known anything was different.

That flame still burnt, proudly yet politely, just as it always has – even if it takes a while to notice.

It first showed as a junior when he seemed to have the world at his feet when he won a series of events as a 17-year-old.

The next few years weren’t overly fruitful, but a win in the 2005 Lake Macquarie Amateur seemed to have him on the right path as he took the pro plunge and it wasn’t long before a handful of victories on the Australian PGA’s then Von Nida Tour came his way.

A win on the Korean tour came in 2006, but it was 2008 before he saluted in the Victorian PGA Championship and really headed to tackle the United States.

Later that year, after a series of close calls on the then Nationwide Tour, he won the WNB Classic in Texas to ensure his promotion to the big dance and, it seemed, his steady but inexorable rise would continue.

A tie for 2nd at no less an event than the BMW Championship during the PGA Tour’s 2009 FedEx Cup playoffs had Leishman, in many eyes, on track for big things.

He went close at Torrey Pines (2nd) in 2010, then at Bay Hill (3rd) in 2011, but that big win came almost unexpectedly at the Travelers Championship in mid-2012 when he fired a closing 62 to come from the clouds and, as fate would have it, run down by a stroke Charley Hoffman after the American’s late stumble.

As per the pattern, wins haven’t flowed since, excluding the Nedbank Challenge to end 2015 on the European and Sunshine Tours.

But the big improvement has continued in the all-important major championship arena.

Many remember Leishman roaring in the background of Adam Scott’s amazing putt on the 72nd green before his subsequent Masters triumph in 2013. Yet few recall he was in that title hunt until he dunked an approach on the 15th going for glory and ultimately tied fourth with Tiger Woods.

He was fifth behind Rory McIlroy at Royal Liverpool in the 2014 Open, then had his aforementioned brush with infamy in Scotland in 2015.

Crucially for Leishman’s season ahead, his win today at Bay Hill not only guarantees him a shot at the upcoming Masters and August’s US PGA Championship, but almost certainly his new world ranking of No.32 will book him slots in the US Open and at Royal Birkdale for the Open. Not to mention a near certainty to again play the Presidents Cup.

It’s a big expectation to place on anyone that they should, or even could, win a major championship.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that’s where Leishman’s golfing focus will fall.

He’s not the type of player who will be around the mark every second week on the US PGA Tour.

But, as his ever-expanding winner’s resume will attest, he has the game and nerve to do so when he puts himself in the mix.

Marc Leishman is a winner, one of very few to have done so on six separate professional tours around the world.

It’s absolute folly to think a major is just a matter of time, but you need only look at this quiet achiever’s remarkable record – and the flame that clearly burns within – to realise that it it’s firmly within his capabilities.