27 Jan 2021 | Professional golf |

Coach goes extra mile for Leish

by Mark Hayes

Marc Leishman and his long-time Warrnambool mate and caddie Matt Kelly share a joke at Torrey Pines last year.
Marc Leishman and his long-time Warrnambool mate and caddie Matt Kelly share a joke at Torrey Pines last year.

Golf is a game of millimetres. It can also be a game of thousands of kilometres.

That juxtaposition was rarely more evident today when defending champion Marc Leishman did his Farmers Insurance Open media call at Torrey Pines.

Leishman, the affable Victorian whose wife Audrey’s life-threatening scare with sepsis have been well documented, had more motivation than most to stay close to their Virginia base last year as the US battled through Covid-19.

But when the PGA Tour found a safe way to play, Leishman slowly but surely found his game had drifted from having had him on the winner’s dais in San Diego and the verge of the world’s top 10 all the way back to going “pear shaped”.

And that’s where the thousands of kilometres kicks in.

Denis McDade, Leishman’s Melbourne-based coach of more than 20 years, did what only those who have special bonds do.

Knowing the health risks involved in the USA – and the quarantine he’d necessarily face when he came home – McDade jumped on a plane to see his charge in time for a November Masters reboot.

After his win at Torrey and runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to start 2020, Leishman endured the three-month pandemic hiatus only to return with his game in bad shape.

Uncharacteristically, he missed cuts in five of his next 10 events and was never really in contention.

“I just didn't feel like me over the ball, which it's a weird thing to say because obviously it wasn't someone else holding the club,” Leishman confessed today.

“But the way – to get a little bit technical – I was getting into the ball was causing me to stand too far away from the golf ball, and from there things just don't go well for me.

“It was a little thing, but little things can turn into big things and then when you start hitting bad shots, it starts getting in your head. It just goes pear shaped from there.

“It was a tough second half to the year, but I'm on the other side of that now and I've got things under control with my game and my putting.

“My putting dropped off a little bit last year also, but it's hard when you're playing and you feel like you're not playing for anything. I was missing cuts by big margins, so it's hard to be fully in it when you're playing that poorly.”

Enter McDade, normally a regular pan-Pacific traveller, but who hadn’t visited since Covid bit the US hard.

“He had to do that two-week hotel quarantine when he got back, but he was kind enough to do that to come over and help me,” the Presidents Cup star said.

“He picked it up after about a day or two. I would never have picked up what I was doing. So I owe probably my play since the Masters to him making that trip and doing that.

“I'm not a person who panics easily, but I will say that I was getting pretty annoyed.

“I would get on the golf course and things would start going downhill generally in the first few holes.

“You get pretty down early on in tournaments, which is not a good spot to be in. It didn't affect my life off the golf course, but certainly when I was on the golf course, I wasn't very happy when you're shooting numbers like I was shooting.”

Leishman finished in a share of 13th at the rescheduled Masters, 24th in Maui as 2021 began on the PGA Tour and then was a fast-finishing fourth in Oahu two weeks ago.

So he returns to California full of optimism on a course he relishes and a tournament he’s about to – remarkably – play for the 13th time.

“It reminds me a lot of home. The grasses that are at Torrey Pines here I grew up on at Warrnambool,” he said.

“It was my first trip to America coming to this golf course for the Junior World (Championship) in 2001.”

Leishman is one of a strong 10-man Aussie contingent in San Diego this week including Aaron Baddeley, Cameron Davis, Rhein Gibson, Matt Jones, Cam Percy, Adam Scott, John Senden, Cam Smith and dual Farmers champ Jason Day.

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