Victorian Marc Leishman is hoping that a change of date will bring a change of fortune as he attempts to wrestle with one of golf’s sternest tests and improve on a US Open record he admits is underwhelming.
One of nine Australians who will have to deal with narrow fairways, ankle-deep rough and perched greens with speed to burn, Leishman is attempting to emulate the deeds of fellow Victorian Institute of Sport product Geoff Ogilvy, the US Open champion at Winged Foot Golf Club in 2006.
To do so Leishman will have to overcome a US Open mental block that he admits has become a greater focus with each passing year of his career.
Playing in his ninth US Open in an unfamiliar September timeslot due to the COVID-19 enforced postponement, Leishman’s best finish is a tie for 18th at Oakmont Country Club in 2016, bouncing back from a seven-over 77 on Saturday to shoot one-under on Sunday and climb into the top 20.
The 36-year-old has finished 35th or better in three of the past four US Opens without ever threatening the first page of the leaderboard and knows that much of it depends on coping with the bad breaks any US Open test will dish out.
“If you’re fragile in any way you’re going to leave there with your tail between your legs,” Leishman concedes.
“I always go into those weeks with a positive mindset and then you get a few of those bad breaks and if you’re not in a good space your headspace can change pretty quickly. That’s the tournament that I’ve struggled in the most so a goal of mine every year is to be better at that tournament mentally. I feel like if you play well in that tournament and you can handle what that throws at you, you can handle anything that’s thrown at you.
“I just want to be better at that tournament and it might be a good thing that I go in with low expectations.”
Struggling for any momentum since coming out of the COVID suspension, Leishman was again subjected to a mixed week at the Tour Championship at East Lake, an opening 66 soon forgotten with a 75 the next day.
Despite his recent struggles, Leishman’s long-time coach Denis McDade believes his current world ranking of 26 brings with it an expectation that can’t be avoided.
“For him, rather than it being specifically the US Open, any time you tee it up in a Major you want to perform well and you want to win and you do carry that weight of expectation,” McDade says. “Like any high performance athlete, when their performance doesn’t align with their expectation, they question themselves, and they’re disappointed.
“You wouldn’t want someone like Marc, who certainly has the ability to win multiple Majors, to not be upset and unhappy if he doesn’t meet his own high expectations. He hasn’t expressed frustration to me as much as disappointment and wanting to get better.
“His career’s not done yet. Maybe he does win the US Open but there are so many things that have to go right to win a Major. That’s clearly his goal at this stage of his career. That’s what he’s aiming to do.”
As players familiarise themselves with a brutal set-up that is unlikely to yield many scores under par by week’s end, Leishman’s primary focus has been to find greater reliability with his driver.
In the season just gone he was ranked 183rd for driving accuracy and 157th in strokes gained: off the tee, stats that will make for a difficult week if they don’t improve markedly at Winged Foot.
“Marc wants to become a better driver of the ball so that he is contending in these events. The work we’re doing is around helping with that,” McDade explains. “A traditional US Open set-up with narrow fairways and a lot of rough, that’s probably not really his gig. I look at his game and the creative shot-making you need, Augusta’s always on his radar. The US Open next year is at Torrey Pines which he loves. A lot of it does have to do with the venue but especially the set-up.
“The firmer and faster it is, the better he’ll do. As long as the course doesn’t tip off the other edge like it did at Shinnecock [Hills] a couple of years ago.”