IT’S A serious business at St Andrews. The players’ faces are, for the most part, pictures of deep concentration, sporadically contorting with disgust when a shot goes astray. The marshals are on constant guard, reminding spectators of where they can and can’t be, swift to chastise any rogue usage of camera phones.
Serious weather has caused serious problems too, with reports of disgruntled players vocally venting their fury at embattled R&A officials following the farcical scenes on Saturday morning.
In the media centre, serious questions are asked of the competitors, techniques forensically dissected and states of mind probed. It is, in the end, an illusion, of course, because in the grand scheme of life everyone knows that a golf major is not really that major at all.
A reminder of that came yesterday when Marc Leishman of Australia emerged as, for want of a better word, a serious contender for this year’s Claret Jug after a scorching, blemish-free 64 in the calm morning conditions to surge up the leaderboard on nine-under par.
Just a few months ago, when the 31-year-old from Victoria was preparing to play in the Masters, his wife Audrey admitted herself to hospital back home in Virginia suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, which developed into toxic shock syndrome and she was put into an induced coma. By the time Leishman arrived at her bedside she had been given just a five per cent chance of survival by the doctors.
Thankfully she woke a few days later but is just at the start of a long battle back from the effects of the illness and coma. With two young boys, 23-month-old Oliver and three-year-old Harvey, Leishman was facing the prospect of giving up the game but now, a few short months later, he is challenging for its greatest prize.
“When I’m out there playing I don’t think about what happened, but it has definitely changed my whole perspective on life,” he explained. “I feel like I’ve always had a pretty good outlook on life, but now just it takes a lot more to worry me. I don’t get annoyed about little things that I can’t really help, when you hit a bad shot there’s no real point getting frustrated about it because you tried to hit a good shot, you didn’t, move on. That frustration doesn’t help.
“And I feel like even if I do have a bad day, I can still go home and hopefully give her a hug and cuddle my boys. There for a while it didn’t look like I was going to be able to do that. I think in that way, it’s really helped me. It’s just changed me as a person, for the better.”
Audrey and the family are back home at Virginia Beach, and Leishman revealed she is recovering well, but it remains an ongoing process.
He said: “It was a huge possibility that I wasn’t going to be playing golf anymore. Travelling with a one-year-old and a three-year-old by yourself isn’t really… well, it wasn’t going to happen. I wouldn’t do that to the boys. They’re too young to know what’s going on. At the time it was just, righto, you’re going to have to give it away and stay home with the boys and be a dad, and that was the most important thing, and I was alright with that.
“Audrey is a lot better. It’s great that she’s healthy again. But yeah, that was pretty rough there for a while, thinking about everything, the boys not growing up with their mom, me not playing golf any more, not having a wife. It was just everything. She looks completely normal. She looks just like she did before she got sick. She’s just got no energy, no stamina. She’s exhausted by lunchtime most days, has to take it easy after that. But that’s a lot better than what it was looking like three months ago. It wasn’t a good outlook, didn’t look good for her, and this is awesome the way she’s recovering.
“The critical illness myopathy is one of the side effects when you’re in a coma for so long with your body working so hard to just keep yourself alive, your muscles just basically waste away. She’s a pretty strong girl and then, all of a sudden, when she woke up from the coma, she couldn’t lift her phone. That’s how bad she was. So you go from lifting weights at the gym to you can’t pick up your phone to send a text message. It’s just going to take time. It might take a year, might take two years, who knows, but she’s here to tell the story.”
Leishman’s Open story could yet be a triumphant one.
“Obviously it would be massive [to win],” he said. “That’s the goal now. Today the goal was to shoot a good round and get myself so I had a chance tomorrow. It would be great to get a hold of that trophy and nice to take it back for Audrey and the boys.”