With healthier wife and better alignment, Marc Leishman moves near Bay Hill lead

2016 - Marc Leishman at No. 18 during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek

With healthier wife and better alignment, Marc Leishman moves near Bay Hill lead

PGA Tour

With healthier wife and better alignment, Marc Leishman moves near Bay Hill lead

ORLANDO, Fla. – What a difference a year makes.

Well, nearly a year. It was 50 weeks ago that Marc Leishman was tending to his game ahead of the Masters when his world – without warning – nearly crumbled.

In the first week of April last year, Leishman cut away from his Masters preparation in Augusta, Ga., to return home to Virginia Beach, Va., and attend to wife Audrey, whose health had abruptly gone from perfect to quickly deteriorating. Audrey had developed flu-like symptoms on March 31, but that eventually devolved into a rare life-threatening condition called toxic shock syndrome, where fluid filled her lungs and her organs consequently began to shut down. As that took place, Audrey was put into a medically-induced coma and given a 5-percent chance to survive.

Marc withdrew from the Masters and, with that grim prognosis, had to start thinking about life without Audrey, life as a single father to two sons and maybe life without golf.

But by her incredible will to live and some miracle, Audrey beat the deadly odds and pulled through. She regained consciousness a few days after being induced, and just like that she survived, and the Leishmans, from the brink, were whole again.

That’s the stance Marc continues to take a full year later at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“On a scale from 0 out of 100, I was at a 0, maybe a 1 last year during that ordeal,” Marc said. “Now I’m at a 98. As bad as I was feeling then is as good as I’m feeling now.”

And his golf is on point, too.

Leishman fired an opening-round 5-under 67 at Bay Hill Club & Lodge to get within one of the lead, held by fellow Australian Jason Day, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It was simple enough stuff, too. Leishman hit 17 of 18 greens and rarely sweated in a bogey-free score, making golf look rather elementary for a change.

“The ball striking was good, and I actually putted quite well too,” Leishman said. “When you hit it that well, it makes the game a lot easier.”

The Aussie’s game didn’t come out this hot at the start of 2016, though. In January, Leishman missed two of three PGA Tour cuts. He revealed last month that at the Farmers Insurance Open, played at Torrey Pines the last week of January, he had become unusually angry and agitated while competing in the event because of a reaction to medication for an issue wrongly diagnosed as a spider bite. Instead, it was a bed bug attack and the correct diagnosis got him back on track.

He resolved that issue, but it wasn’t the only. While Leishman, 32, didn’t know it at the time, his alignment on shots at Torrey Pines had skewed left. Way left.

“When my alignment’s off, I’ll be aiming off the fairway, maybe 20 yards left,” Leishman said “It creeps left and left until it reaches that point.”

It’s a habit Leishman has fought his entire career, and he estimates it rears its head about once per year. Denis McDade, Leishman’s coach, caught on to the error quickly and by the time Leishman came to the Northern Trust Open (where he would finish T-5) three weeks later, the correct alignment returned and he was back to striping it.

But even better is the renewed health of Leishman’s family. Last year’s ordeal of course left a mark, but, remarkably, it did so in a positive way.

“It was testing with everything that happened with Audrey’s health for sure,” Leishman said. “It’s given me a new perspective, though, in that I don’t let the little things worry me and I cherish my family more.

“I used to take hugging my wife and kids for granted. I’d go back home, give them a hug and then they’d get back to what they were doing and then you would play with the kids a bit. Now those hugs and your time with your kids and your family, I really feel lucky to be able to do that.”

The Leishmans were never alone, either. Marc commented that the family received support from all around the world, too much to even really sort through the ones that meant the most.

Except for the fact that some people that the Leishmans had never met – the first one being a random guy from Germany – offered their encouragement.

While the situation for the family is immeasurably better at the moment, that’s not to say everything’s perfect. Audrey fought for her life last April, and that took a toll. While she was in a coma, Audrey basically had her immune system beaten down.”

“Her muscles turned into newborn baby muscles (during the ordeal),” Marc said. “Everything has been rebooting. A lot of her energy is going toward rebuilding her muscles, so her immune system is the last thing to get taken care of.”

That has posed problems in the several months since. The regression of Audrey’s muscles and her compromised immune system has caused her to struggle with low energy and extended illnesses.

That has in turn meant “bad spells,” where Audrey has battled with these side effects. For the first six months after emerging from her coma, Audrey went through these spells almost on a daily basis. In the fall, she began to experience good periods for weeks, with the bad installments regressing to a couple weeks to a month at a time.

Marc estimates his wife has experienced 4-5 significant spells since the fall. A simple cold can turn into a flu that lasts weeks.

One spell is in progress right now, as Audrey has been unable to kick a bout of strep throat for the last three weeks. Her body has become so accustomed to so many antibiotics, that Audrey has to shuffle through different medicine as one by one becomes ineffective against the illness. She’s currently on her fourth antibiotic with this bout of strep throat.

Audrey was out on the grounds Thursday but had to come out from the 12th hole to rest and lie down after feeling a bout of low energy.

Because Marc travels consistently and Audrey no longer has the energy she used to, the Leishmans have employed a nanny since around May or June to take care of sons Harvey, 4, and Oliver, 2. Faith, their current care-taker, is practically on full-time to help out a couple that is no longer as independent as it used to be.

That’s how it goes when one parent is not yet fully healthy.

“It’s like form with golf,” Marc said. “It goes up and down. Same as Audrey’s health at the moment, unfortunately.”

It’s unclear if Audrey will ever make a full recovery. Marc estimates that at the moment Audrey’s muscles have regenerated to about 80 percent of what they used to be, and when she’s not fighting illness, she doesn’t have to take any daily medication. Doctors told Marc that when the two-year mark of Audrey’s near-death experience hits next spring, they should have an idea then as to whether she’ll be 100 percent ever again or continue to deal with a weakened immune system and its side effects.

Whatever the case, the Leishmans are happy with their situation and grateful for what wasn’t taken away. Marc said that when he returns to the Masters this year (he qualified with a top-4 finish – a T-2 – at last year’s British Open), he expects to be a bit emotional early in the week because he’ll be pondering where he was that week last April versus this one.

He elaborated that he will be at Augusta National with Audrey – who will make the trek even if her strep throat is still an issue – his two boys and his parents, which should be a special experience.

It’s one that fifty weeks ago, he was almost certain he would never get with that full team. Marc has seen too much to rest on his laurels, but with his wife’s turnaround, he’s taking an aggressive stance in his game and life.

“I’m feeling great now about our situation,” Leishman said. “Things can change very quickly, which I know. So you just have to make the most of everything.”

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