Despite only emerging as one of the game’s top talents on the world stage in recent years, Marc Leishman is no longer a young up-and-coming Australian Tour player learning the ropes.
In fact, the Victorian is starting to embrace a new role, as one of the country’s older heads on the PGA Tour, his relationship with World Cup teammate Cam Smith a sign of things to come for the next generation (if they wish) as they navigate the early days of their career.
And players like Cameron Davis, Curtis Luck and Lucas Herbert would be very wise to take the man from Warrnambool up on his offer to lend a hand in their early days on Tour.
“I definitely feel like I'm one of the older guys now,” Leishman told the media on windy Wednesday at RACV Royal Pines.
“It's been a few years since there's been a batch of guys come on to the Tour like that. It's exciting for golf. Spending as much time with Cam (Smith) as I have and playing as many practice rounds with him has really made me work harder and improve my game as well.
“Seeing those guys come through, it's as motivating for us as well to try and I guess not show them how it's done, but to kind of lead the way, I guess.
“I think the Australians are very willing to help each other out, that's I think pretty clear with guys who are coming onto the tour and us older guys sort of trying to do whatever we can to help out in any way we can. As John Senden and Rod Pampling did to me, happy to do it to the younger guys as well.”
But while Leishman hopes to spend time with players like Davis and Luck in 2019 on the PGA Tour as they play their rookie season 10 years on from his own debut on the world’s biggest stage, he is hoping to first add another notch to his own belt, by claiming his first big tournament at home at this week’s Australian PGA Championship.
“Obviously got a purpose to be here, I want to try and win one of these, or win this event,” Leishman said. “I haven't managed to win one of the three big Australian events yet, so that's very high on the list, probably a missing part of my resume.
“As far as pressure, I don't know if I feel pressure to win, but I'm definitely I'll say a lot more determined to do the right things and try and give myself the best chance to contend when I'm at home. I think the first few years that I came back when I was on Tour, it was almost a bit of a holiday, like a bit of a deep breath and all right, we're done for the year, let's enjoy this week, hopefully we play well.
“The last few years it's been more of, you know, go through the correct process that I do on Tour. … Because I don't want to get another five years down the track and still be getting asked the questions as well.”
"I don't know if I feel pressure to win, but I'm definitely I'll say a lot more determined to do the right things and try and give myself the best chance to contend when I'm at home." – Marc Leishman
Leishman very nearly dealt with the lack of an Australian tournament on his resume last year at Royal Pines, when he returned to Australia to collect the Greg Norman Medal and opened the event with rounds of 67 and 65. But a bad third round all but ended his charge.
Rather than dwell on the negatives from once again failing to get over the line at home, Leishman is looking at the positives 12 months on.
“I feel like last year was a big step getting off to the start I did,” he said. “Obviously it was a disappointing third round, but I think I finished fourth, which is not what I was after, but it's more how I want to play in these events rather than, you know, shooting five-under in the last round to finish eighth or something like that.
“I think last year was a big step in the right direction just with doing the right things, and hopefully I can improve on that this year.”
And with the redesigned Royal Pines layout bedding in further another year on and Leishman gaining more experience around the Graham Marsh design, he agreed the par-72 might suit him better than the Melbourne Sandbelt tracks of his home state after tailoring his game to the PGA Tour.
“I think there's a bit more trouble out on this golf course, Leishman said of Royal Pines. “I think iron play, good iron play is very important here with the severity of the run offs around the greens. So yeah, it could (suit better), especially if it blows like it is now. I enjoy playing in the wind. Yeah, I'll say yes. We're here this week, hopefully I can prove that right.”
If Leishman does manage to find his best form and succeed his partner from last week as the winner of the Kirkwood Cup, he may well have Smith to thank.
Leishman admitted he has learnt a great deal from Smith’s short game during their time preparing for the World Cup, even adjusting his equipment setup, with a win the immediate result, after observing how the Queenslander and defending champion approaches his wedge play.
“Just if they've got any questions, it's just nice to bounce them off someone really that's been there.” – Marc Leishman
“Pretty much watching,” Leishman said of how Smith has helped his own approach play. “I'll ask him a few questions here and there. Changed my wedge setup in Malaysia, so Malaysia was the first week that I went to four wedges.
“For the last five years my highest lofted wedge has been a 57°. I put a 60° in the bag and had to move around the wedges a little bit, the lofts, just to dial them in. That's really helped me seeing him, I normally like shaping shots and taking spin off it or adding spin for distance. He seems to have a lot of really good numbers and he'll hit a lot of full shots in. So watched him, thought I would try it out and it worked pretty well in Malaysia, and then last week as well hit a lot of good wedge shots.”
The comradery between the Australian players is clear as Leishman describes Smith’s help with his game. And with a player like Leishman guiding his contemporaries in America, it will likely continue long into the future.
“Just if they've got any questions, it's just nice to bounce them off someone really that's been there,” he said. “This is my 11th year on tour now, and it doesn't even have to be anything big. It's just talking to someone about something helps, whether it's about where to stay or a tactic on a certain hole, why you hit a certain club off this tee rather than another one, just little things like that.
“I think for those boys it's just a matter of realising that they're obviously great players to get to the Tour, they don't have to change anything to keep improving. They'll do that naturally over time by learning.”