Marc Leishman Rediscovers His Mojo
Marc Leishman is a throwback to a bygone era, a player who likes to shape shots in both directions. He thrives in the wind, able to hit the ball high and low at will.
It is an ability that has seen him win five times on the PGA Tour, including last year at the Farmers Insurance Open. Leishman couldn’t find a fairway in the final round, but he still shot a 65. He hit just three fairways, but holed more than 150 feet of putts.
Not long after, Leishman was runner-up to Tyrrell Hatton at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an event he won in 2017. Then he opened the Players Championship with a five-under 67, his career-best opening round at TPC Sawgrass. The second round was cancelled because of the pandemic, and when Leishman returned he discovered that the magic had gone. He wasn’t the only player to struggle when the lockdown came to an end, but very few lost it quite as badly as the affable Australian.
In nine starts after the season resumed, Leishman missed four cuts and his best finish outside the Tour Championship was a T40. He only qualified for East Lake on the strength of his pre-pandemic form, but he may as well not have bothered. Leishman missed the cut at the Northern Trust. He then shot 80-78-79-73 (+30) in the BMW Championship (another tournament he’d won before) to finish last, a staggering 34 shots behind winner Jon Rahm. In the Tour Championship, he was 29th of 30 players.
His start to the 2020-21 season wasn’t much better as the 37-year-old missed the cut at the U.S. Open followed by a T52 and T70 at the limited field CJ CUP and ZOZO Championship.
“Having a big rest over the pandemic break was good for me to be with family but for my golf game it wasn't so good for me,” Leishman said. "Normally on weeks off I don't play at all, so I virtually have never played golf with no crowds. It's either in a tournament or in a practice round at a tournament so that was very new to me. Even when I play golf back home in Warrnambool [in his native Australia] there are people watching me so returning without fans was weird. I really struggled with energy.”
Despite his record, Leishman struggled for recognition from the American public and even when he was paired with big-name stars, his nationality usually meant he’d be fighting for the majority of support.
“When you're struggling with crowds around it can still be fun because if there are 50 people watching and you hit a shot from the trees you can kind of entertain or show off your skills a little bit,” Leishman says. “It gets you engaged even if you're going to miss the cut. You think, 'These people might remember this if I pull it off.' But I was in the trees a lot last year and you can't even show off when no one is there.
“As an artistic player, when you start drawing dodgy pictures with your shots, which I was doing, you start to think about it too much and I started getting technical. I started thinking science and that’s never good for me. I was looking in the wrong places for solutions.”
In normal circumstances, time with coach Denis McDade would quickly fix any gremlins. However, McDade is based in Australia and the pandemic made travel to the U.S. very difficult indeed. Leishman could have looked for a local coach but he’s had the same coach and same caddie since he burst on to the PGA TOUR and was Rookie of the Year in 2009.
McDade finally made his way to the U.S. in late October last year and hooked up with Leishman in Los Angeles during the ZOZO. After watching the opening two rounds he identified the problem.
“It was huge for him to come over and a massive commitment from him,” Leishman says. “He has a family back home, but he was over here for six weeks and he got home and had to spend two weeks mandatory quarantine in a hotel room where you don't get given a room key. He missed his birthday and his wedding anniversary during quarantine, so I am really appreciative and want to thank him.
“In the end it wasn’t really my swing at all. It was the way I was getting into the ball – I was standing too far away from it,” Leishman reveals. “I was being technical on the tee; I was doing drills in the tournaments before every tee shot which I had never done before, and it was getting me too far away from the ball and my weight too far on the toes. When my weight is on the toes my balance is bad and I miss it right and left and it's just a disaster - I was in a hiding to nothing.
“So, it was something really simple and that’s where it's really good that I've been with Denis for 18 years. He knows my tendencies and he saw it straight away. If I had gone to someone else or jumped ship with him not being able to come over, a new coach may or may not be able to see that.”
The results were instant. In his next start at The Masters, Leishman was T13, hitting the ball better than most of the field but only falling behind on the greens. In January, he finished T4 at the Sony Open in Hawaii, his first top-10 since the pandemic break. Leishman is back.
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