Marc Leishman: On the lessons in failure

Aussie, Mark Leishman has settled into the driver’s seat at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, OH. Taking advantage of an uptick in his recent results, Leishman birdied four of his first eight holes. He bogeyed his ninth, but then came right back and birdied three of his first six holes on the back. He bogeyed his 16th and made a bounce back birdie on 17. So, perfect symmetry: four birdies and a bogey on each side, good enough for a 6-under 64 and a one-stroke lead over Ryan Moore, Charl Schwartzel and Justin Rose.

Leishman has one victory to his credit, the 2012 Travelers Championship in Hartford. But he’s a little disappointed that his recent high-quality play hasn’t also garnered a win. What brought this out was a conversation that began with an observation that he had become more easygoing on the golf course of late, showing less emotion, good or bad: 

“Yeah, that was probably a weak point.  I’ve always been pretty hard on myself, not really anywhere but just on the golf course.  On the golf course, I’ve always been really hard on myself.”

“I feel like I’m working that stuff out.  Things are really good off the course, two great kids and a great wife and the rest of my family, and everything’s going good.  So there’s no real reason to kind of not be happy, I guess, yeah.”

In 2013, Leishman shot a first-round 66 to take the lead at the Masters. He slipped to T4 with a 73, 72, 72 close. But he was there. And he’s been in the mix a couple of times this year and not quite pulled it off either. So now here he is leading another really big tournament. He’s had a chance to think about these things and he knows what he personally has to do to finish this one off:

“I think I’ve just got to not get too far ahead of myself.  It’s definitely easy to do that.  You start thinking about what might happen if you are to put four good rounds together.”

“I think on a tough course like this, it’s going to be pretty easy not to get ahead of myself because there’s so much trouble out there.  There’s a lot of — if you’re not quite on your game, you can have a pretty high score.”

“Just got to try to keep doing the simple things good and keep doing what I’m doing.  Just keep doing it.”

Looking ahead has two sides to the same coin. You can either look ahead and see positive outcomes or look ahead and see negative outcomes. Leishman has experienced both and now knows that the best way to handle this peeking at the future is — how many times have we heard it? — only think about the shot in front of you:

“Yeah, I’ve dealt with both.  This year at the Masters, I was playing great and stuffed that up pretty well on the Friday [79 and missed the cut].”

“So that happens.  Obviously, it’s frustrating, and it’s disappointing when it does happen.  I guess it’s probably happened to everyone.  Maybe not on that stage.”

“But you can’t be thinking about that sort of stuff.  You’ve just got to try and play good golf and see what happens, I suppose.”

“And then on the other side, I’ve won tournaments before.  Not on this tour, but on the Nationwide Tour or the Web.com tour, by big margins.”

“I guess, if you get in the right frame of mind and stay in that frame of mind, that’s probably the key, more so than the golf.  You’ve got to just think about this shot, not think about oh, the next hole’s a birdie hole, and that’s a birdie hole as well.  You can’t do that.”

And when he let the Masters slip away, he was able to look back and see that he hadn’t just been bitten by positive or negative thoughts, it was both:

“Both, I think.  Yeah, you’ve got the so‑called birdie holes there like 13, 15.  I got too aggressive on those holes trying to make birdies and eagles and made bogeys.  You can’t be doing that.”

“I guess — yeah, both.”

And the second-round 79 at this year’s Masters — as most failures do — had some extremely valuable lessons in it too. It was brutal. He birdied the first three holes, got ahead of himself, and promptly went bogey, bogey, par, bogey, par, double bogey. Bad as that sounds, it was still only a 2-over 38. But his psyche knew that was only because the three birdies were masking the disaster that came after.

And he couldn’t stop the bleeding on the back. He bogeyed 10, double bogeyed the par-3 12th and then bogeyed both of the par-5s, 13 and 15 when his length held out the prospect of eagles. 41. At the Masters.

“Occasionally I’ll think about it.  I learned a lot from it.  Like I’ve heard Tom Watson talk about it, and he said you learn a lot more from your disappointments, or not winning, than you do from winning.”

“That one I learned so much about myself and my game, and mentally as well, just mindset.  It was just I walk away from there, and I felt like I was — obviously, I was really disappointed and crushed and all that.  But once it passed, I felt like I learned a lot and I was a better — a lot better player mentally, I guess.  Could handle more than what I could before that.”

Having survived some horrific crucibles myself back in my Monday qualifying days, you learn over time that you’re still alive the next day. We all like second chances; you get to live to fight another day.

And if your ego starts to go all squishy with embarrassment over your temporary, manifest incompetence, you eventually learn that in the long run, you’re the only one who cares. Others are just grateful that it didn’t happen to them.

And even better, for those that do care, it’s because they care for you and have compassion for your misfortune. And because of them, you learn that those with malevolence in their hearts are the exception…and perhaps need your compassion more than you need theirs.

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