We sat down with one half of the 2021 Zurich Classic champions to get the inside scoop on what makes a dream pairing in golf.
AUSTRALIAN GOLF DIGEST: You have established a good team chemistry and friendship with Cameron Smith. What do you admire about his game and what makes you guys such a good foursomes pairing when you have teamed up? And were you surprised you never got the chance at Royal Melbourne?
MARC LEISHMAN: I did think we might have been paired but obviously the results showed Ernie’s pairings were fantastic. The idea of splitting up the Australians got the crowd more into it and spread out around the golf course.
Cam has a lot of game. He has no real weaknesses. He just needs more experience. I’m probably most impressed with his wedge game. He is so sharp from 100 yards and in.
I have tried to mentor him as a younger, fellow Aussie but at the same time, I’m learning from him as well. Through Cam, I’ve realised where I need to improve in my own game and we both feed off each other. We’re both very competitive. We are great mates but we both want to beat each other when we’re on the course. It’s a pretty good mix of friendship and competitiveness. At the 2018 Australian PGA Championship, we fought pretty hard on the course but as soon as we finished we had a beer together. We can switch that competitiveness on and off.
What’s the secret to finding a good partner for teams events?
Cam and I aren’t scared to hit each other into trouble. That’s where amateurs can get it wrong – they really feel the pressure of not wanting to put their partner in trouble. Sure, you are trying to do your best and you do feel bad if you put your mate in the trees, but with Cam I joke, “Alright, go hit that one, mate.” It’s funny. We let humour get us back into a rhythm after one of us has put the other in a tough situation. It’s also important you find someone whose game complements yours so you can combine each other’s strengths.
Anything you’ve learned from teaming up with Cam?
I watch Cam’s short game and wedges a lot. I love watching him hit any shot inside of 120, 130 yards. Love the way he goes about it. I’ve tried to improve my wedge game from watching him and I feel like if you can learn from your friends, which I think I have, I think I’ve gotten better with my wedges. And, yeah, I mean, there’s always an opportunity to learn.
Australian Golf Digest understands you and Cam have a competition for who has the best backyard putting green. Are you the clear frontrunner?
Yes… he took that challenge on himself [laughs]. Cam’s is actually putting-green grass, whereas mine is fairway grass. I have 419 Bermuda grass so he probably has me on that one, but I can get mine striped up a bit better. That’s a little dig for you [laughs].
When did your lawn obsession start?
It’s pretty much been a life-long passion. When you have your own house, and you have the means to grow it the way you want to, the excitement for a good lawn increases. In the past five or six years it has really, ahem, grown on me.
The prospect of a gold medal in Tokyo, what would that mean?
It would be huge. I would love to contend for any medal, to be honest. Obviously you want to go for gold. But something I never ever thought I would do would be have a chance to win an Olympic medal. And obviously I’ve got to get on the team first. But, yeah, I’m excited about the chance of being there and contending for that and really excited.
What got you hooked on golf early in your childhood?
I love all sports but I loved that feeling of hitting a good shot that is so flush on the face you can’t even feel the golf ball. A lot of the golf I used to play as a junior was on a Sunday morning and if you mishit the shot on the first hole, which was normally a 3-iron, you knew about it.
But the friendships were the biggest drawcard for golf. I’ve still got great mates who I met in junior golf and that hasn’t changed. The social side of the game is one of my favourite parts of the sport. My home club Warrnambool was a very working-class club. My dad and his mates always wanted to play golf quickly so they could get into the clubhouse and have a beer. I think that’s also one of the great things about our sport – having a beer and spending time with your mates after a round.
Is there an Australian style of playing golf at the highest level? Do Aussie tour pros share a tendency at all?
I think we are all quite versatile. You have to have a lot of different shots growing up and playing in Australia. If you miss a green you don’t just automatically grab a lob wedge. A lot of pins you can’t go at, but there are ways to get to the flags, so we become quite good at shaping shots.
Do you think the generation you are a part of, who grew up idolising Greg Norman, are aggressive and bold because he was?
I think so. I know that’s the case for me. Maybe not on the Sandbelt, where it requires so much strategy, but certainly in America where there isn’t as much disaster around the greens. If I can get to a par 5 in two I’m generally going to go for it, unless it’s reckless. If I see an eagle opportunity
I’m usually going to have a crack, as that is a full shot I can make up on the field. Greg’s style of play has definitely influenced the way I way play.
What dictates if you will or won’t go for a hero shot?
Well, it depends on the situation but if I look at the shot and know I could pull it off seven times out of 10, I will go for it. I may be too good at hitting shots through gaps and maybe sometimes I try to pull off too many of them. That’s because I practise those; often I throw a few balls in the trees on a course and work on getting it out so that in a tournament that’s not foreign. Chipping out is a pet peeve of mine; I hate chipping out. I try to avoid it at all costs, which Matty (caddie Matt Kelly) hates [laughs].
What’s the most Aussie thing you carry in your bag?
I always have an Australian one-dollar coin in there. I don’t even use it but I used to mark my ball with an Australian one-dollar coin. Well, I actually started with a two-dollar coin as a kid but switched to one dollar so that I wasn’t as annoyed if I lost it [laughs]. Since I got my new ball marker with the boxing kangaroo, I just kept the one-dollar coin in the bag.
You are looking fit and trim. What do you eat and drink on the course now you’ve taken nutrition a bit more seriously?
I put electrolytes in my water so my body absorbs it a bit better. That hydrates your brain as well. My chiropractor, Dr Stuart Love, has these sport bites… they are all organic and vegan. Not that I am vegan [laughs] but they are very nutritious and help to maintain energy levels. I used to eat whatever was available but now I put the right things in my body so it helps my game.
OK, last one: is there one solution for slow play?
Just enforcing the rules. It’s not rocket science for me. You get 40 seconds to hit a shot. In my opinion, if you have been put on the clock and then you take more than your allotted time, there should be a penalty. If you carry 15 clubs, that’s breaking the rules. Every day, golfers take too long and they don’t get penalised. If they did, it’d stop pretty quickly.