Marc Leishman doesn’t know what his future holds but, like many of his frozen-out LIV Golf colleagues, he clings to hope that it still involves golf’s four majors.
The Australian didn’t qualify to play any of the big events this year in what was a jarring career shift, having featured in a streak of 30-straight majors dating back to the 2015 Masters.
It was the price Leishman suspected he might pay for joining Greg Norman’s first wave of LIV Golf recruits last year.
He now plays almost exclusively on the controversial, Saudi-backed tour alongside compatriots Cameron Smith and Matt Jones.
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The exception is playing the biggest two events on these shores, the Australian PGA Championship, starting Thursday, and the Australian Open next week.
Joining LIV Golf has been a positive, and lucrative, experience for the man from Warrnambool. However, it has come at the hefty expense of not featuring in any of the four majors.
For a player who long dreamt of winning one — and came close with four top-five finishes, including when he lost a playoff for the 2015 Open Championship — the flame has not burnt out.
Leishman still hopes majors are in his future, but accepts his defection to LIV Golf was a gamble that may not entirely fall in his favour.
Asked by foxsports.com.au this month if he sees himself playing in the majors again, Leishman was optimistic, and raised the possibility of LIV’s top players earning special exemptions.
Nonetheless, he remains acutely aware of the great unknown that is keeping men’s golf deeply fractured.
“I mean, I hope so,” he said of playing majors in the future. “Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen there (LIV players earning spots).
“I guess when I did make the jump (to LIV) I knew this was a possibility and I was prepared for it.
“My priority is to play good at the LIV events, try to get into the top few of the standings, and hopefully something will happen with the standings there that they’ll award majors to those guys.”
He added: “I knew it was a bit of a possibility (not playing majors again) and honestly, I’m really enjoying my time at home, spending more time with the kids and really enjoying the team aspect of LIV, and travelling the world again.”
At 40 years old, and having rediscovered his putter in the back-half of the season, Leishman is eager for a resolution that would allow him to re-enter the majors fold.
None of the four organisations that run the majors have banned LIV Golf players, but they have stuck fat with their exemption criteria.
That decision is now effectively on-par with a ban for the players who have not won a major, and therefore rely on their Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to earn a spot.
This is because LIV Golf is not recognised by the OWGR, who rejected the tour’s application earlier this year, meaning the likes of Leishman have tumbled down the rankings and out of the spots for majors qualification.
Leishman is now ranked 410th in the world, down from a career-best of 12th, and 33rd in January 2022.
LIV RANK-AND-FILE FROZEN OUT
LIV Golf gained legitimacy by building its roster around major winners who could continue to feature at golf’s biggest events well into the future.
For example, 2022 Open Champion Smith can play all four majors through 2027, Dustin Johnson through 2025, while Phil Mickelson can play all but the US Open until 2030.
Leishman, however, fits into the LIV Golf rank-and-file that made the entire operation possible, and yet, is now wearing some of the greater costs.
Playing in Australia this summer will allow Leishman to earn some precious OWGR points given neither the nation’s PGA Championship or Open have banned LIV Golf players from participating.
That decision has provided a boost to the events with Leishman’s fellow LIV Golf stars, Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira, also on the hunt for points.
The two Chileans have committed to both the Australian PGA and Open, boosting the events’ male international firepower, along with world No.46 Adrian Meronk and No.57 Robert MacIntyre, who was undefeated at this year’s Ryder Cup.
Like Leishman, both Niemann and Pereira have tumbled from prominent world rankings — the former is down 63 spots to 78th, and the latter 50 spots to 91st.
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The OWGR snub will sting that bit more for Pereira after he led on the 72nd tee box at the 2022 PGA Championship, only to double bogey the final hole to lose by one.
Those players, however, are not drastically removed from the top 50-70 OWGR spots that earn exemptions, depending on the major.
Leishman is, meaning his main route back to the majors is being reintegrated on one of the world’s traditional tours to earn regular OWGR points.
A framework agreement between the PGA and DP World Tours, and LIV Golf’s funder the Public Investment Fund, included a pledge to work towards player reunification.
The next phase of those merger negotiations, however, are moving at glacial pace. They are almost certain to miss their self-imposed deadline of December 31, if they don’t collapse entirely.
It means Leishman is hoping for other measures to be introduced, such as one that would see the top players on LIV’s order of merit earning special exemptions.
It’s the route Leishman flagged as a possibility when speaking to foxsports.com.au, and one which would have him far better placed than relying on the OWGR.
While it’s unclear if such a deal could be created, LIV Golf has reportedly held talks with the R&A about securing guaranteed spots at the Open Championship.
KEY FIX HAS AUSSIE PRIMED
Meanwhile, Leishman was one of LIV Golf’s top players in the season’s latter stages, finishing third in London, and second in Chicago.
The results saw him make a late climb up to 18th in the season standings having struggled through the middle of the year due to a basic putter error.
“It turns out if you’re not aiming your putter where you think you are, the putts don’t tend to go in,” Leishman told foxsports.com.au.
“I had a bit of a cold putter and I had to ask my coach over in the middle of the year and he sorted it out in about 10 minutes.
“Fortunately, and unfortunately it was that simple. Fortunately because it was very easy to fix, and unfortunately because it was so simple I should’ve picked it up myself four months earlier.
“From 10 feet, my putter face was aiming about half-a-cup left. So my good putts were missing left — or what felt like good putts — and to actually get the ball in the hole I had to hit a push.
“When they started going in I did contend a fair bit later in the year.”
He added: “Obviously when they’re going in the hole it takes a lot of pressure off the rest of your game and you can free it up and enjoy it a lot more.
“I’m hoping that can be the case at the Australian Open and Australian PGA this year and get my first win of the year.”
Leishman will have some formidable competition to contend with in the form of his big-name compatriots.
Smith, who won twice this LIV Golf season and finished second in the season standings, is returning, along with Australia legend Adam Scott, and 25-year-old sensation Min Woo Lee.
Lee arrives having just won the Macao Open on the Asian Tour
With the Australian Open being a mixed-gender tournament, Leishman will also battle a high-profile women’s field that includes Lee’s two-time major-winning sister Minjee, world No.15 Jiyai Shin and No.25 Hannah Green.
November 23-26: Australian PGA Championship, Royal Queensland Golf Club, Brisbane
Total prize money: $2,000,000
December 1-4: Australian Open, The Australian Golf Club and The Lakes Golf Club, Sydney
Total prize money: $1,700,000
HOW TO WATCH
Cameron Smith, Adam Scott, Min Woo Lee, Marc Leishman, Adrian Meronk (AUT), Matt Jones, Cameron Davis, Joaquin Niemann (CHI), Mito Pereira (CHI), Robert MacIntyre (SCO), Michael Block (USA), Lucas Herbert, Alex Fitzpatrick (ENG), Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP), Eddie Pepperell (ENG), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA)
Australian PGA Championship
2022 (Nov): Cameron Smith
2022 (Jan): Jed Morgan
2019: Adam Scott
2018: Cameron Smith
2017: Cameron Smith
2022: Adrian Meronk
2019: Matt Jones
2018: Abraham Ancer
2017: Cameron Davis
2016: Jordan Spieth