Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 17, 2017

Leishman Turns Boston Debacle Into Chicago Triumph

When last we saw Marc Leishman he was taking 40 shots to complete his walk around the back nine of TPC Boston in the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship. The 33-year old Australian had arrived at the first tee on Labor Day sharing the 54-hole lead with playing partner Justin Thomas. Leishman vaulted into sole possession of first place by the turn, scorching TPC Boston’s front nine with six birdies to go out in 30. But as the bogeys piled up on the more demanding inward half of the golf course, he sank back down the leader board just as quickly. By the time he arrived at the 18th green, Leishman’s round had descended into slapstick. From thick rough in front of the putting surface, he shanked a chip shot through the legs of an NBC cameraman standing to his right.

In his eighth season on the PGA Tour, Leishman has recorded a pair of wins, the most recent earlier this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That’s enough for his name to be recognizable to close followers of the Tour, though he readily acknowledges that he still flies under the radar to casual golf fans. His closest brush with real golfing fame came at the 2015 Open Championship. At soggy St. Andrews Leishman and Zach Johnson both came from three shots back in the final round to catch Louis Oosthuizen and force a four-hole playoff. But he immediately bogeyed the 1st hole while Johnson and Oosthuizen were both making birdies. In the end Leishman was just one more applauding spectator when Johnson lifted the Claret Jug.

Sunday at the BMW Championship, the penultimate event in the Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, the question for Leishman was not about what happened two years ago and an ocean away, but rather the far more recent debacle outside of Boston. For after hacking his way home at the Dell, Leishman returned to action at the BMW and immediately made his presence known. He birdied three of his first four holes on Thursday on his way to an opening 62 to seize the first day’s lead at 9-under par. Leishman followed that up with nearly as good a round on Friday, settling for a 7-under par 64 that left him three shots clear of fan favorite Rickie Fowler and fellow countryman Jason Day.

In Saturday’s third round Leishman saw his lead reduced to one before he had played even a single hole, when ahead of him Fowler nearly drove the green on the short par-4 opening hole and then sank a curling 24-footer from just off the putting surface for an eagle. But Fowler couldn’t follow up on his flashy start, making ten straight pars before dropping a shot at the 12th. In the end, he signed for a 1-under round of 70, the exact score recorded by Day and Patrick Cantlay, Leishman’s next closest pursuer.

With his closest competitors stuck in neutral, Leishman expanded his lead going into Sunday. Playing with Day, he went out in 1-under 34 thanks to three birdies offsetting a pair of bogeys, then birdied the par-4 13th and par-5 18th for a 3-under 68, moving him to 19-under par through 54 holes.

The final birdie by the straight-hitting and unassuming Leishman was instructive. Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner and former world number one who is still in the top ten in the rankings, outdrove Leishman by a good forty yards on the reachable par-5. But he then hooked his second into a greenside bunker, where it plugged near the lip. From an awkward stance and impossible lie, Day did well to splash the ball onto the green, twenty feet from the hole. Leishman’s approach with a longer club was straight, as they almost always are, and rolled just through the green. From there he chipped close to the hole for the tap-in birdie, while his better known and longer hitting but more erratic companion settled for a par. That exchange gave Leishman a comfortable five shot edge; with one round to play any remaining doubt about the outcome centered on his recent collapse.

Golf is a game that requires both perfect memory and absolute amnesia. The sport’s top practitioners hone their skills through repeated practice, training their muscles to respond in exactly the same way every time the club is swung. But the mental aspect of the game is every bit as important, and it is there that memories can often do more harm than good. Like baseball, golf is one of our games that is as much about managing failure as it is about reveling in success. The greatest golfer of his time, Tiger Woods has won just over 25% of the PGA Tour events in which he has played, meaning of course that almost three-quarters of the time he has come up short of victory. And Woods’s winning percentage is phenomenally high!

So Leishman’s job on Sunday was to keep his mind clear of any thoughts of his most recent final round, to avoid any moment of self-doubt when a shot went astray. He helped himself with a birdie on the opening hole, and showed his resolve when after recording a bogey on the par-4 5th hole he immediately bounced back, holing a 25-footer for birdie on the 6th. He turned in 2-under 33, with Fowler and Day keeping pace but not charging. Rather it was Justin Rose, who started seven shots adrift, who came barreling through the pack.

But when Rose closed to within two late in the round, Leishman more than held his nerve. Two weeks after closing with back-to-back bogeys, this time he sank a long birdie putt on the 15th, a short one on the 16th, and added one final birdie at the last to balloon his final margin back to where it had started, five shots. With the win, he jumped to fourth place in the FedEx Cup standings heading into next week’s Tour Championship, where each of the top five players can win the Cup and its $10 million bonus by winning the tournament. Given a second chance, Marc Leishman forgot about failure and by doing so captured the biggest win of his PGA Tour career.

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