With another big win, Leishman takes game to a new level
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Marc Leishman allowed himself to dream of being among the best, even if there were times that that looked a long way off.
It’s hard to think about trophies while working the graveyard shift.
That was one of the jobs Leishman took early in his career in Australia, when he needed money to pay for entry fees. He operated a laser that cut thick sheets of metal into various shapes. One wrong move could mean the loss of a limb, tough work for an aspiring golfer, especially at $10 an hour working from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.
”It was hard work – and hard staying awake,” he said. ”That wasn’t too good for my golf, so that lasted a week.”
His best golf looked a long way off when Leishman first came to Chicago as a PGA Tour rookie. He made eagle on the final hole of the second FedEx Cup playoff event to narrowly advance to the BMW Championship. He played in the final group with Tiger Woods, and it was first time Leishman was nervous on the golf course.
Woods won by eight. Leishman was in awe, sure, but he still managed a runner-up finish to get to the Tour Championship.
Eight years later, he is heading back to East Lake under far different circumstances.
Leishman went wire-to-wire at Conway Farms, building a five-shot lead going into the final round and never allowing anyone to get closer than two shots all day. The one threat came from Justin Rose, and Leishman responded with back-to-back birdies.
Then, he added a birdie on the 18th hole for a 4-under 67 that broke the 72-hole scoring record at the BMW Championship, which previously belonged to Woods, the guy that left Leishman in awe.
Leishman finished at 23-under 261.
The 33-year-old Australian, who had only one victory in his eight previous years on the PGA Tour, now has two in one year. He also won the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
That alone doesn’t put him among the elite in golf, and Leishman would be the first to say that. He still has trouble getting recognized, joking earlier in the week that he can occasionally hear fans in the crowd saying, ”Who’s that bloke there?”
Sunday brought plenty of satisfaction.
Leishman topped $5.7 million in earnings for the year, more than double his best season. He had never led from start to finish on the PGA Tour. He atoned for his play two weeks ago at the TPC Boston, when he shot 40 on the back nine to lose a two-shot lead at a FedEx Cup playoff event won by PGA champion Justin Thomas. He went to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup, giving him a clear shot at the $10 million bonus if he wins the Tour Championship.
And he moved to No. 15 in the world. That got his attention.
”I didn’t actually know that,” he said, trying to contain a smile as he sat next to his two trophies – one from the BMW Championship, the other from the Western Golf Association that has operated this event since 1899. ”You set goals, I guess, a little bit. I always thought I was good enough to get into the top 20. But thinking you’re good enough to do it and doing it are different things.”
His peers knew better. Jason Day, who played in the final group with Leishman on Saturday, knew he would be tough to beat because he controls where he’s hitting the ball and he never gets rattled. Rickie Fowler saw it on Sunday, when Leishman made only two bogeys. He made two birdies in three holes after the first bogey on the front nine, and followed his bogey on the back nine with three birdies over the closing five holes.
”Marc’s a world-class player now,” Fowler said. ”He’s definitely not someone that you look past.”
Equally satisfying, if not more, was to see his two young sons run out to him on the 18th green, with wife Audrey carrying their 2-month-old daughter. How much Leishman can build on his big year is still to be determined. What hasn’t changed is how well he is liked in golf, and his family is a big part of it.
His wife nearly died two years ago from toxic shock syndrome. It was a scary time, and it led him to start the ”Begin Again Foundation” aimed at helping families get through sepsis and toxic shock syndrome. Leishman targeted the BMW Championship as a chance to highlight Sepsis Awareness Month, so he asked players to wear ribbons in their cap. Everyone went along.
That he is having his best season with his wife healthy and family growing is not a coincidence.
”A lot less happening off the course now. That’s probably the biggest thing,” he said. ”Now everything is great off the course. I’m happy. Just my golf game feels better than it ever has in all respects.”
It’s where he always thought he could be. And it’s a lot of fun seeing it happen.