Leishman Channels A Life Well Livedby Ron Green Jr. - March 20, 2017
ORLANDO, FLORIDA | Last week at the Bay Hill Club was always about Arnold Palmer as it should be forever when the PGA Tour rolls into the place where he spent so many happy years.
But it was ultimately about Marc Leishman and the power of hope and love, traits that helped define Palmer as much as his violent golf swing and his magnetism.
Framed as a celebration of Palmer’s radiant life, the Arnold Palmer Invitational ended with Leishman walking into a hug from his wife and children rather than the traditional winner’s handshake from Palmer, whose hands and arms for years were as strong as his smile.
It somehow felt right at the end of a long week, the winner being a man who two years ago anticipated giving up professional golf to raise his children after his wife was expected to die from complications related to toxic shock syndrome.
Instead, Audrey Leishman is alive, well and pregnant with a girl due in July, bringing a karmic arc to a tournament that managed to glow despite the lingering sadness from Palmer’s passing last fall.
“It’s sad not to have him up there walking off the 18th green, to be that first guy to walk off and not be greeted by Arnold Palmer,” Leishman said, wearing the winner’s red cardigan sweater that once had belonged to Palmer.
“But he’s left such a great legacy and I’m sure he will be proud of how everything’s gone this week. The course was unbelievable. The crowds were amazing. Weather was perfect. It’s been an unbelievable week for me.”
It would have been easy for the API, as it’s now known, to have been emotionally heavy-handed, to make it mawkish and overly sentimental. Palmer would have detested that.
Whether it was parking his cart near the 16th tee looking toward the 18th green, speckling the course with umbrellas in the familiar red, yellow and green colors of his brilliant logo or any of the various other ways – big and small – Palmer was properly celebrated.
Players took advantage of the opportunity to sit behind Palmer’s desk in his Bay Hill office, surrounded by photographs and memories of the man himself. It was a money-can’t-buy-it moment for players accustomed to getting so much.
It was heartwarming to see the umbrella logo on golf bags, shirts and caps last week. In a city built around its tourist attractions, the immense new statue of Palmer that sits near Bay Hill’s first tee has become an automatic photo opp for fans who cluster around it.
“I took a photo with it,” Brandt Snedeker said.
Palmer won the last of his 62 PGA Tour victories 44 years ago – before every player in the field except Vijay Singh and Tim Herron were born – but his impact always has reached beyond his playing record.
Palmer was a force of nature. He wasn’t perfect but he set an example, whether it was requiring gentlemen to take their hats off inside the Bay Hill clubhouse or famously signing his autograph legibly enough to be read.
Times change and people change but it is important that Palmer’s presence endures, not just this year but in the years to come. It was palpable at Bay Hill.
“Reverence is a really good word,” Graeme McDowell, one of the event’s hosts, said of the feeling that permeated Bay Hill.
“It’s sort of an unsaid opportunity for guys to conduct themselves the way they should and learn from a role model like Palmer. I felt personally every time I signed an autograph I’ve made more of an effort.”
The feel was warm, not forced, like Palmer himself.
Two years ago when Audrey Leishman was near death, Marc had made a simple life decision.
“I was ready to give it away,” he said. “I was going to be a dad. It didn’t cross my mind to keep playing golf.”
On Sunday afternoon, when Leishman remembered a read from a practice-round putt that helped him hole a 51-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole that put him in the lead for the first time, he finally had an answer for his son Harvey, who has often asked his father why he doesn’t bring trophies home.
The question never bothered Leishman.
“He’s 5 years old,” Leishman said. “It does give me extra motivation, though.”
Leishman didn’t seriously think about winning until he stood on the 17th tee and two pars coming in got the job done, earning him a spot in The Masters in two weeks. Beyond the money, the trophy and the benefits that come with winning, Leishman truly can enjoy what he has done, what he and Audrey have done together.
Asked what he considers to be a life well lived, a tagline now associated with Palmer, Leishman thought for a moment.
“I don’t want to get 30 years down the track and wish I had spent more time with my kids or wish I had – you don’t want to be known as an underachiever,” he said.
“I feel like if you can be a good dad, good husband, good person, play some good golf along the way, I feel like that’s a – you know, enjoy yourself, enjoy a few beers, enjoy some good food. I feel like that’s a life well played and that’s how he lived his life.”
Then Leishman looked at his wife and smiled.
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