Leishman is perfect defending champion at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Australian's values fittingly mirror the former golf legend's
March 14, 2018
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Preview: 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational
Arnold Palmer always looked you in the eye when he firmly shook your hand, making you feel like you were old friends.
He was an out-and-out superstar both on and away from the golf course, but remained a humble and caring person despite his stature in life. He always signed his autograph legibly, was a stickler for people removing their hats indoors, and extolled virtue and manners constantly.
Where I come from they would say he was just a fair dinkum good bloke — or genuine nice guy for the rest of you.
It is these values that make the current defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard so apt.
Marc Leishman is a genuine as they come.
“He has no ego at all,” long-time friend and caddie Matty Kelly said of Leishman. “He could be a dominant world number one and would still be the same guy. He would still treat everyone with the highest respect.
“I always refer to him as a really good guy who is really good at golf. He hasn’t changed one bit since I grew up with him as a kid.”
Growing up in the small town of Warrnambool on the Victorian coast of Australia — about a three-hour drive from Melbourne — Leishman was long seen as a potential star golfer.
He was winning senior titles in his early teens and could have easily developed a sense of entitlement. But with parents Paul and Pelita leading by example, instead he always understood just how lucky he was to follow his dreams.
Australia stereotypically doesn’t allow its sports stars to develop ego. Tall Poppy Syndrome sees to it. It is almost incumbent on your friends to bring you back to Earth if your head gets too big.
The famous Australian truth is the more an Aussie makes fun of you the more they probably like you. They are watching your back, in a bizarre way.
It is why a guy like Adam Scott is so beloved but a tennis star like Nick Kyrgios divides the nation. A humble hero is idolized.
Marc Leishman birdies the difficult 17th hole at Arnold Palmer
There has never been a divide on Leishman.
Every person he meets feels like they’ve just hung out with their best mate at a pub.
In true Palmer fashion he elevates your importance.
A proud father of three young children Leishman has been teaching the value of manners even before they were born.
Often he holds signed balls or gloves in his pocket while signing autographs for young fans. The ones who show impeccable manners are always rewarded with a memento of the occasion.
The story of his wife Audrey almost losing her life to sepsis — a life-threatening condition in response to an extreme infection — has been well told over the last few years. The ordeal certainly helped Leishman with perspective.
And the Begin Again Foundation the pair have started after the ordeal — that helps sepsis sufferers financially — has become a healthy mutually beneficial commodity. Those in need get help, and Leishman gets the side effect of making a significant tangible difference, boosting his happiness.
Golf is his job. But family is his life. It is in the latter where he wants to leave his greatest legacy.
“It takes way more energy to be a tool and not be nice than it does to be nice,” Leishman once told me.
“I am still the same person I have ever been. I am good at golf sometimes but that shouldn’t change who you are as a person. At the end of the day it is just a job. Luckily it is a job I enjoy that helps me provide for my family.
“I saw how hard my parents worked for me growing up and it helped me understand the value of a dollar. I appreciate how hard others have to work in this world and how lucky I am.”
Now 34, Leishman has found career form. The key to it is consistency on course and consistency of mind.
Marc Leishman shoots 69 to win at Arnold Palmer
He had always shown flashes of potential.
Like when he was PGA TOUR Rookie of The Year in 2009.
Or when he won his first title in 2012 at the Travelers Championship.
Or when he led the Masters early in 2013 and had a chance on the back nine Sunday.
Or when he was in a playoff for the 2015 Open Championship with Zach Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen.
But it wasn’t until a year ago, here at Bay Hill, that a settled Leishman finally found his place.
His mind was at ease completely. His wife was over the major health humps. They had a long-wanted daughter on the way to join two boys, ensuring their family life felt complete.
He had even turned a corner mentally by accepting the fact he was not like many of the stars in today’s golf scene when it comes to gym time and physique.
“He just had slightly less of a care factor, but in a positive way,” Kelly said. “He knows golf isn’t the be all and end all but yet he’s more driven. He practices smarter and is more efficient with time.
“When he is playing he is fully focused and into it, but when he’s not he’s focused on being a great dad and husband.”
Last year he charged home late on Sunday, in true Palmer like fashion, to clinch his second TOUR win.
And with the three-year exemption his mindset hit a new high, creating the player who was able to put a heartbreaking loss at the Dell Technologies Championship immediately behind him to go wire-to-wire in winning the BMW Championship during the FedExCup Playoffs.
His sixth-place finish in the FedExCup was just the second time in his career he made the TOUR Championship, the first since his rookie year. He’s now entrenched inside the world top 20 players and expects to be at Atlanta every year.
Consistency has reached his game with just four missed cuts in his last 35 TOUR starts where he had 10 in the 35 prior.
His first seven seasons averaged eight missed cuts and just three top 10s a season.
He has 10 top 10s, including two wins, over the last season and a half. And now he plays aggressive.
“In Korea last year, early this season, I noticed the difference in a practice round,” Leishman said. “We were working out strategy on a tough short par-4 and my mindset was the guy who wins is going to step up and hit driver every day and make some birdies, take the risk of bogey.
“In the past I would have been working out how not to make bogey on an uncomfortable tee shot but now I am thinking about winning. It is a fun place to be.”
He’s ready for more fun this week.