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SAN DIEGO – Marc Leishman couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.
Now he figures he’s ready to go.
It just took him a long time to get here. When the PGA Tour returned last summer after a 13-week break due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Leishman was ranked No. 15 in the world and feeling mighty fine about his game, seeing as he had won the Farmers Insurance Open last January for his fifth PGA Tour title and finished second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational the week before the PGA Tour went quiet.
But Leishman’s fine pre-COVID-19 form was nowhere to be found when the PGA Tour regained its footing. In 15 starts after play resumed, his only top-20 was a tie for 13th in the Masters. He missed six cuts – in his previous 29 starts, he missed just three. He fell to No. 30 in the world.
Try as he might, nothing seemed to get his best game going for nearly five months. In the BMW Championship, he hit bottom with rounds of 80-78-79-73 to finish 30 over par and 34 shots behind winner Jon Rahm.
“I had no idea what I was doing wrong,” Leishman said Tuesday at sun-splashed but chilly Torrey Pines. “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 said he lost all his momentum from earlier in the year and it took him quite a while to figure out how to deal with not playing in front of fans. Just as importantly, he had to solve his sort of out-of-body experience.
“I just didn’t feel like me over the ball, which is a weird thing to say because obviously, it wasn’t someone else holding the club,” he said.
Help, however, finally arrived from Down Under in the form of his longtime coach, Denis McDade, who was able to finally fly into the U.S. in late October.
“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. He picked it up after about a day or two, what I was doing,” Leishman said. “I would never have picked up what I was doing. So I owe probably my play since the Masters to him making that trip.
“To get a little bit technical, the way 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. But I’m on the other side of that now and I’ve got things under control with my game and my putting.”
Leishman played well in the Masters and tied for fourth in the Sony Open in Hawaii two weeks ago. Now he’s in the ideal place to keep his momentum going. In addition to winning last year, when he overcame a four-shot deficit at the start of the final round with a 7-under-par 65 to beat Rahm by one shot, Leishman’s finished second twice and tied for eighth at the seaside resort.
“It reminds me a lot of home, the grasses that are at Torrey Pines here I grew up on at Warrnambool (Australia),” Leishman said. “It was my first trip to America coming to this golf course for the Junior World in 2001. And you’ve got to be pretty precise around here, but there’s places you can miss it. If you know where those places are and those places where you can’t hit it, I think you can get it around if you don’t have your best stuff.
“I love San Diego. I’m feeling good. The Sony Open was great, I played well at Maui as well, just putted a little better at Sony. It’s been well documented I didn’t have my best stuff towards the middle and end of last year after we had the break.
I’ve got that under control now and that’s in the past, so I’m ready to go for this week. I feel like my game’s in a pretty good spot.”