GOLF AND LIFE WELL PLAYED

03/19/17

ORLANDO – Marc Leishman’s son, Harvey, kept pestering his father for a trophy. On Sunday at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill, he delivered.

 Leishman, a husky Australian with a toothy grin, converted a 51-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th hole that lifted him to a one-stroke victory in the 39th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Leishman finished with a 3-under 69 and 11-under 277 total at Bay Hill’s Championship Course to pocket $1.566 million and 500 FedExCup points.

 The win was his first since the 2015 Nedbank Challenge and his second on the PGA Tour after the 2012 Travelers Championship. It also was his first win with his entire family along to witness it. Arnie would have approved for sure.

 “It’s obviously a very special week,” said Leishman, 33, who beat third-round co-leaders Charley Hoffman and Kevin Kisner by a stroke on a windy afternoon in Central Florida. “Mr. Palmer was an awesome guy who I was lucky enough to meet a few times at this tournament. To honor him is huge. Another reason why it’s so special this week is this is the first time I’ve won a tournament with my family here. So, to have Audrey and the boys here … it just all came together.

 “And I guess the Masters, too, right? So, I don’t know, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

 Hoffman and Kisner each shot 73, while Rory McIlroy, the No. 3 player in the world, three-putted the 72nd hole and finished two back with Tryell Hatton of England. McIlroy, who briefly held a share of the lead until Leishman’s monster putt, closed with a 69, while Hatton had a 71.

 Defending champion Jason Day closed with a 2-under 70 and ended up tied for 23rd at 286.

 Leishman’s story has an element of real emotional significance. Just before the Masters two years ago, his wife Audrey was stricken with toxic shock syndrome, and she was placed in an induced coma as a Hail Mary attempt to save her life. Marc barely ate or slept as she lay almost lifeless. All he managed to eat was a few nibbles of fruit from a basket sent by a fellow tour player.

 Turns out that player was Hoffman, whose wife Stacy is one of Audrey’s closer friends on tour.

 “He’s a super guy and they’re a great family, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” Hoffman said earnestly. “They have been through a lot, so how could you not love their story? But I wish he would quit beating me.”

 Hoffman was runner-up in Leishman’s Travelers Championship victory, too.

 That kind of a coincidence brings chills.

 As does Leishman’s idea of what the victory means. “Golf is not life and death. We’ve been through that,” he said.

 But winning this event had Leishman thinking of what a life well played means after Palmer’s passing last September. Leishman is the first winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational to not receive a congratulatory handshake from the tournament host. He did receive a red alpaca cardigan sweater like one Arnold often wore, the new symbol of victory at Bay Hill.

 “He’s someone that you look up to, not just in golf, but he's obviously -- well they say ‘a life well played,’ because he's lived his life to the fullest,” Leishman said. “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.

 “I feel like if you can be a good dad, good husband, good person, play some good golf along the way,” he added. “I feel like … 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. How highly his family speaks of him, he's so genuine. So that's what it means to me and that's how I try to live my life is to be known as a great person who played good golf, not to be known as a golfer who was a decent player.’

 He certainly was a good golfer this week. The trophy for his son is the proof.

 Arnie would be proud.