ORLANDO, Fla. – Three feet from victory Sunday, Marc Leishman thought about his son’s nagging question.
For the past year, his 5-year-old son, Harvey, has asked, “Daddy, why don’t you ever win a trophy?”
It wasn’t for a lack of effort, of course. Leishman has desperately tried to snap a five-year winless drought. He nearly won two majors during that span, at the 2013 Masters and 2015 Open. He has been in final-round contention in all but one tournament this year. No trophy, though, and so the questions continued.
It didn’t help that Jason Day won eight times over the past two seasons, and each time was bum-rushed on the 18th green by his two young kids, Dash and Lucy.
“Hey, why can’t I run out on the green?” Harvey asked.
And so the kid wasn’t about to miss out Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, even though the end result was still in doubt. He and brother Oliver, 3, raced onto the green to congratulate their dad, who had pitched to 3 feet and made the slippery par putt to post 11-under 277.
When Kevin Kisner failed to make a closing birdie to tie, Leishman scooped up his kids in a bear hug to celebrate the long-awaited title.
“You won, Daddy!” Harvey squealed. “Let’s go get the trophy!”
This Arnold Palmer Invitational meant so much more than just the shiny silver trophy.
Two years ago, Leishman was told that his wife, Audrey, had a 5 percent chance of surviving after a series of infections put her in a medically induced coma.
While Marc was at Augusta National preparing to play in the following week’s Masters, Audrey came down with a 102-degree fever and flu-like symptoms, and that worsened into strep throat and pneumonia, and that became acute respiratory distress syndrome and toxic shock syndrome. By the time Marc returned home to Virginia Beach, Va., his wife was hooked up to a ventilator, her lungs were filled with fluid, and the prognosis was dire. Leishman spent the next 96 hours by her bedside, barely able to eat, his mind racing, as the thought of being a single father of two young boys became a distinct possibility.
“I was ready to give it away,” he said.
Two days before the Masters – and after a doctor’s critical decision to turn her on her stomach – Audrey’s condition improved and she regained consciousness. Marc returned to the Tour later that month, and he lost a playoff at The Open a few months later.
“They went through their nightmare when I was in my coma,” Audrey said. “When I woke up, it was a big relief for them, and that’s when my nightmare started. That’s when I realized what had happened to me and how sick I really was.”
Audrey’s health has remained a concern over the past two years. She routinely developed some kind of respiratory infection. There was even a minor complication at this event last year, when a family trip to the theme parks ended up with Audrey in the hospital to receive IV fluids and steroids.
Her health finally began to turn around last May, when she underwent a tonsillectomy. In September, she was cleared by her infectious disease doctor.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” she said. “He said that I was released and told me to have a good life. I’ve never left a doctor’s office being that happy.”
A month later, Audrey, 33, was pregnant with the couple's third child, a girl, now due in July.
The traumatic experience gave Leishman a much-needed dose of perspective on a tour full of charmed existences.
“It makes golf less important,” he said. “It’s not life and death. We have been in that situation and it’s not fun.”
Leishman’s hard-earned victory was a fitting end to an emotional week that was always going to be about more than birdies and bogeys.
That tone was set early, with the unveiling of the 13-foot Palmer statue, and then continued throughout the week with the well-attended opening ceremony and the colorful umbrellas that adorned hats and bags and shirts, and the inspirational signage throughout the course.
The beloved tournament host always camped out on the 16th tee, and he would have loved what he saw from Leishman. Lining up his 50-foot eagle putt, Leishman realized that he’d struck virtually the same putt during a practice round Tuesday and missed 3 feet left. He backed off, readjusted his line, and holed the putt to leapfrog the leaders. Two solid pars to close gave Leishman his second Tour victory, and first since the 2012 Travelers.
"Very special," he said.
The only thing missing was Palmer’s customary greeting to the left of the 18th green.
Fortunately for Leishman, Harvey and the rest of the family helped fill that sizable void.