Denis McDade, long-time coach of world No.37 Marc Leishman, reveals how an adjustment to his pre-shot routine turned the Victorian around and why he is excited to return to Kiawah Island for this week’s PGA Championship:
Marc really struggled coming out of lockdown so I went over to the US and spent five weeks with him late last year to try and get to the bottom of what wasn’t working. Not being able to watch him practise and, more importantly, compete in tournaments live really restricts what a coach can pick up on but after a couple of days at the Zozo Championship I could see something wasn’t quite right with his pre-shot routine.
In some ways I was intrigued as to why he wasn’t playing well because there was nothing in his swing mechanics that suggested we had a lot of work to do. In the first round it was obvious to me that all of his normal processes just weren’t there; he was doing some stuff around his routine and his approach to playing that I hadn’t seen him do before. Our task was to migrate back from what he was doing to what he does when he plays well. It sounds simple but it took a couple of weeks to get that happening.
Marc plays his best golf when he visualises a shot and then his routine is shaped around the shot he sees and the shot he wants to play. It’s not a rigid pre-shot routine that he repeats before every shot, his pre-shot routine is determined by the shot he has visualised hitting. He does work on improving and maintaining mechanics, but he leaves it on the range. If he ever starts thinking about things on the golf course, that’s when he starts to struggle. He was thinking far too much about what he was doing and wasn’t connected enough with the shots that he was playing.
The week before the Masters last November, we played five days in a row doing the same thing over and over again. The last round we played before going to Augusta he shot a bogey-free 65 around his home course of Bayville in Virginia Beach. I thought if he continued with that process at Augusta National he would play well, and he did. Since then it’s just been making sure that he’s stayed in that mode.
The other thing that was affecting Marc was the lack of crowds at tournaments. It was amazing how quiet it was at the tournaments I attended and even the players were tempered in their reactions to good shots. These guys live to perform when the crowds are there, the energy is up and you’re in one of the leading groups but Marc also draws energy from the crowds when he’s not playing so well because there is always someone encouraging you, regardless of how you’re playing. He really missed that and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as the crowds have returned he has looked happier out on course and his body language has been a lot better, along with his results.
I’m sure he’d be carrying some expectation of performing well this week at a golf course that he’s performed well around before (Leishman finished T-27 at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island). I’m sure he’d be quietly confident.
These weeks of a Major can be really long and Marc has gotten a lot better at managing his time and energy levels for these weeks. You often see rookies or first-timers who put so much work in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday that they’re all but cooked come Thursday morning, but given his experience Marc has his routine for a Major week pretty much sorted out. When he’ll play, how much he’ll play and it will all be around being physically and mentally sharp come Sunday afternoon. Being right in the mix to win at Augusta just last month, by Sunday night he was spent. I don’t think people realise how much a golf tournament can take out of you, mentally and physically. He was happy that he’d had a good week, upset that he hadn’t got the job done but he was just spent. He’s been in the hunt enough to know what it’s like at the end of a tournament and you’ve got to have a good amount of fuel in the tank come Sunday morning to get it done.
If there is a Major being played at a golf course that you haven’t performed well around, your job during that week is to work through that and work your way into the tournament to the point where you have a chance of winning. The fact of the matter is, regardless of where a Major is being played, you want to get yourself into contention because the more times you give yourself a chance, the more chance you’ve actually got of winning one.
Marc clearly has plenty of game on open, seaside golf courses. You throw wind into the mix and he’s comfortable. Regardless of the golf course or the conditions he’ll figure out a way to get it done but we know he has put in some great performances at Open Championships where the conditions have been testing. If it’s firm, fast, windy and tough, he loves that. He loves the challenge and the competitive side of that. It’s what he lives for. It’s what all those guys live for. He was obviously brought up in Warrnambool where the ocean’s only a few hundred metres away. He’s really proven himself to be highly competent playing those open, exposed, links-style golf courses and I’m sure he’s looking forward to the week ahead. I look at that golf course, the open feel to the place, and I’m sure Marc’s licking his lips.
• One of three principal directors at BannLynchMcDade based at Yarra Bend Golf in Melbourne, Denis McDade is a Senior Advisory Board Member of the Titleist Performance Institute and Head of TPI’s Junior Advisory Board. Denis was voted 2017’s Australian Coach of the Year, Victorian PGA Teacher of the Year in 2016 and 2001, and Australian Golf Digest Coach of the Year in 2008.