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Happell: Few More Compelling Tales Than That of 'No Fuss' Leishman

One wonders how Alan Shipnuck is bearing up today.

The Sports Illustrated ‘senior writer’, you see, posted a Tweet during the final round of the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews – where Marc Leishman was very much in the thick of things – that earned him a special notoriety among Australian golf fans.

As Leishman battled away with Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth over the back nine, Shipnuck, betraying his American roots and peculiarly parochial view of the world, couldn’t help himself.

The reporter opened his laptop and fired off this Tweet: “Marc Leishman is a nice fellow, and clearly a good player. But with this leaderboard it will be a monumental letdown if he wins this thing.”

It was an astonishing observation – as if Zach Johnson, the very definition of beige, was somehow a more compelling tale – that not only did his global readership a disservice but seemed to completely ignore the remarkable Leishman back story.

How this Warrnambool favourite son had, four months earlier, been on the verge of losing his wife, Audrey, to an acute respiratory illness. How he had hurriedly returned from preparations for the Masters to be at her hospital bedside.

How she was put in an induced coma as toxic shock began to affect her organs. How she was given a 5 per cent chance of recovery.

And Shipnuck didn’t think that amounted to much of a story? That, against that backdrop, a Leishman win would rank as a monumental letdown?

Four hours after his incendiary post, our Sports Illustrated man was feeling a bit the worse for wear, having been lambasted on social media not just by the entire town of Warrnambool, Leishman’s home base, but pretty much the rest of Australia.

Respected US TV commentator Peter Kostis joined in the condemnation, along with British golf writer James Corrigan, Australian fellow pros Paul Gow, Scott Gardiner and Aron Price, and even the likes of former rugby league and union star Wendell Sailor. It seemed everyone was queueing up to sink the boots into the hapless Shipnuck.

Later, the shellshocked but unrepentant writer took to Twitter again: ‘So today I was called a cockwomble, muppet, arsehole, knob jockey, malaka, tosser, wanker, flog, mug, roaster & dickhead. Twas a great Open!’

In a strange way, that episode neatly encapsulates the Leishman phenomenon.

Here is a world-class player who is perpetually underrated and under-appreciated.

With his slightly dishevelled appearance and shy manner, Leishman is nobody’s idea of a matinee idol.

He’s just a country boy from Victoria’s western district who goes about his business with little fanfare, and few histrionics.

In the US, that’s a combination that does not play very well with the TV execs … or, it would seem, the local golf writers.

Even in winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida, Leishman received what can only be described as a muted response from the TV commentators and galleries.

In the press tent, Shipnuck must have been quietly seething that Americans Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman couldn’t get the job done – and give him a readymade story for the folk back at US Golf Magazine (another of his employers).

For five years now, Leishman has compiled an impressive list of results in top-tier tournaments around the world - without actually winning many.

He announced himself on the world stage in 2012 by shooting a 62 on the final day of the Travelers Championship to claim his first PGA Tour victory.

The following year, he finished fourth at the US Masters, behind Adam Scott, then fifth and second in the 2014 and 2015 Open Championships, respectively. In 2014, the Australian also had two top-10 finishes in World Golf Championships events.

En route to his long-awaited second PGA Tour title, Leishman holed a 16-metre eagle putt on the 70th green at Bay Hill to take the lead, and he stayed there with two tough pars to win one of the more prestigious events on the PGA Tour.

Showing a steely nerve, the 33-year-old closed out the tournament at the 72nd hole by hitting an exquisite 45-metre bump-and-run which rolled to within a metre of the hole. He made the par putt for a three-under-par 69.

It was a similar shot – a pitch from about that distance – that put paid to Jordan Spieth in their Presidents Cup singles match in South Korea in late 2015.

Spieth, at the time, was hot, the world No.1 and the best-performed US player on the team, yet the unfancied Leishman prevailed in a gripping contest.

Spieth later had the good grace to acknowledge the Australian’s talent: "Marc played great golf …. He will win a major championship in my mind. I lost to a really good champion and a solid player today.”

As Leishman cradled the impressive tournament trophy on Bay Hill’s 18th green, alongside him were Audrey, now in radiant good health, and their two boys, Oliver and Harvey. Mrs Leishman, in fact, revealed that child No. 3 was on the way.

Leishman’s victory gives him a start in the US Masters at Augusta in three weeks’ time.

He’s not a philosophical type but, perhaps as he drives down Magnolia Lane, he might find time to reflect on life’s vagaries and how the last time he roared back down that picturesque roadway two years ago, he genuinely feared his entire world was about to fall apart.

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