ORLANDO — Arnold Palmer wasn’t waiting behind the 18th green at Bay Hill to congratulate Marc Leishman after he won on Sunday. The 33-year-old Aussie didn’t mind settling for a hug from his wife and their two young boys instead.
The first Arnold Palmer Invitational without the tournament’s namesake, who passed away at 87 last September, was emotional for many. No one perhaps more so than Leishman.
Two years ago, almost to the week, Leishman’s wife, Audrey, nearly died from toxic-shock syndrome, a rare, life-threatening complication of certain bacterial infections.
She also suffered acute respiratory distress syndrome, which occurs when fluid builds up in the small, elastic air sacs in the lungs. The more fluid in the lungs, the less oxygen to reach the bloodstream and the rest of the body’s organs, which then begin to shut down.
Audrey was induced into a coma that lasted four days to pinpoint the illnesses. Her last words to her husband, who rushed to her bedside from Augusta National, where he was practicing for the following week’s Masters, were to look after the cats and take their two kids to get their photos with the Easter bunny.
Doctors gave her a 5-percent chance to live.
Sunday, the couple’s two children, 5-year-old Harvey and 3 1/2-year-old Ollie, ran onto the 18th green to greet their father, with Audrey nearby.
Leishman, who had rolled in a 50-foot eagle putt two holes earlier to take a lead he would never relinquish, won the tournament—his first since 2012—a few minutes later when Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman were unable to catch him.
“For the past year Harvey has been asking, ‘Daddy why don’t you ever win a trophy?’” Audrey said. “So it’s been a real dream and motivation to win a trophy for Harvey and Ollie, and the fact we are all here together is a dream come true.
“[Harvey] kept seeing [Jason Day’s son] Dash and [daughter] Lucy run out onto green [last year] and was like, ‘Why can’t I run out onto the green?’ ”
At one point, Leishman wasn’t sure whether he’d ever set foot on a green again himself. “If Audrey had have passed away, I was going to be a dad and that was it,” he said. “It didn't cross my mind to keep playing golf.”
Eventually, Audrey’s condition improved. But recovery was slow and the journey filled with pitfalls.
“It was your worst nightmare,” she said. “They went through their nightmare when I was in my coma, and when I woke up it was a big relief for them and that’s when my nightmare started.
“That’s when I realized what happened to me, and how sick I really was.”
For a year-and-a-half she battled various respiratory infections. A year ago at Bay Hill, she was hospitalized after falling ill and had to be pumped full of steroids and intravenous fluid. Then last May, she underwent a tonsillectomy and spent most of the summer downing antibiotics.
“There was a long time where I wasn’t sure if I was always going to be sick or if I was ever going to get better,” she said. “To be here, it really is hard to put into words.”
It wasn’t until last fall that she was finally given a clean bill of health by doctors. The following month she got pregnant. In July she will give birth to a baby girl.
The couple hasn’t decided on a name yet. Given Sunday’s outcome, Palmer might not be a bad choice.