Leishman family's harrowing journey yields Bay Hill win

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Minutes after Marc Leishman walked off the golf course Sunday afternoon, once his Arnold Palmer Invitational victory was finally official, the first person to congratulate him was his 5-year-old son, Harvey, who came running toward him for a tight embrace, quickly trailed by little brother Oliver. Harvey has been badgering his father lately, asking why he hasn't been winning any of those big, fancy trophies like so many PGA Tour dads of his friends.

So right there, in the moment, Harvey did what any proud, precocious 5-year-old would do in this situation. He yelled with glee about his family's new present.

"You won, Daddy!" he squealed as he wrapped his arms around him. "Let's go get the trophy!"

It almost didn't happen. Any of it.

This isn't a story of how a brilliant 16th-hole eagle or nervy pars on the final two holes propelled Leishman into the winner's circle for the first time in five years.

No, this is a story about life and death, about overcoming the odds, about preparing to sacrifice everything for family, and realizing in the process that golf is just a game.

Two years ago this month, Leishman was at Augusta National, preparing for the upcoming Masters Tournament, when his wife, Audrey, started experiencing flu-like symptoms.

She went to an urgent care clinic. When her fever and vomiting progressed to shortness of breath and decreased blood pressure, she was rushed to a hospital. They hooked her up to a ventilator and other machines. The doctors struggled to pinpoint the problem.

Her conditioned worsened. She could barely stay awake, a side effect of the medications. Eventually, doctors determined she was suffering from toxic shock syndrome, a manifestation of multiple bacterial infections. She had fluid in her lungs. Her organs completely shut down.

Doctors induced Audrey into a coma. She was given a 5 percent chance to live.

Marc sat with her. He cared for their boys. He cried a lot; he stopped eating; he lost 10 pounds. He certainly didn't play any golf. He felt helpless.

He also came up with a plan.

"I was ready to give it away," he recalled Sunday. "If Audrey had passed away, I was going to be a dad and that was it. It didn't cross my mind to keep playing golf."

The coma lasted five days. Even after she came out of it, she didn't wake up for another day and a half.

Then the woman given a 5 percent chance of living awoke. She slowly started to improve.

The improvements were small at first, then gradually magnified. Her vital signs started returning to normal. She was able to breathe again on her own. Finally, she returned home.

She was healthier but hardly cured. For a year, Audrey battled various illnesses, repercussions of the original one.

"I kept getting sick with different respiratory infections," she said. "Spent a good solid year after I got really sick, still being sick."

During last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational, the family had plans to attend three theme parks. After the first two, a full 12 months after she first became sick, Audrey had to be admitted into a hospital again.

It wasn't until last September that she was finally given a clean bill of health.

"I had a follow-up with my infectious disease doctor," she recalled. "It was one of the best days of my life. He said that I was released and told me to have a good life. He meant that, in a really nice way. I've never left a doctor's office being that happy. Since then, it has been a continuous upward trend."

All of this, from the original prognosis to those harrowing days of doubt to the lingering illnesses afterward, made this week's victory so much sweeter.

Two years ago, Leishman was prepared to give up professional golf for good. If his wife had died, he had planned to raise the two boys and spend his days as a full-time dad.

Now here he was, wearing a Palmer-inspired winner's cardigan, holding a trophy his oldest son had kept asking him for.

"It's been a wild ride," Leishman said. "It makes [golf] less important. It's not life and death. We have been in that situation and it's not fun. If you're missing a 4-footer it's not fun, but you can make a 40-footer on the next. So, yeah, it's been a wild ride and you certainly do appreciate the good times a lot more and appreciate just everything, your kids and your family and just having people around. It's just great to be able to share this with someone. It wouldn't be anywhere near as fun if they weren't with me."

After getting those congratulatory hugs from Harvey and Oliver, he walked over to Audrey and gave her a lengthy embrace.

She's fully healthy now. The boys have their new trophy and the good news won't stop anytime soon.

The woman who overcame the smallest of odds, who was in a coma just two years ago, is pregnant. The couple will welcome a baby girl this July.