As 21-year-old Daniel Berger closed out the U.S. Open last weekend with a birdie putt 18, his Canadian coach Jeff Leishman knew he had witnessed something special.
But he didn’t realize at the time that his student had just made history by shooting the lowest Sunday round ever at Pinehurst No. 2.
“I just knew that it was a darn good round,” said Leishman, a native of Alliston, Ont. “So yes, it was gratifying.”
Berger’s 66 in the final round left him tied for 28th at one of golf’s four majors, an impressive result for his PGA Tour debut. The Florida native says his work with Leishman over the past five-plus years played a key role.
“We’ve spent so much time together that he just understands what I want to hear,” said the former Florida State Seminole. “He gives it to me straight in a way that I can understand so that I can go out and turn it into good things.”
Leishman, whose client list also includes PGA regulars Will MacKenzie, Tom Gillis and former Canadian Open winner Carl Pettersson, takes a unique approach to teaching, believing that a truly perfect swing is unattainable.
“If I’m coaching you and you’re a client, we’re not going to be dealing with trying to make your swing technically perfect because there is no such thing,” Leishman said in a recent phone interview. “It doesn’t exist.”
Instead of reconstructing his client’s swing, he looks to “take something that’s already good and make it just a little bit better,” by identifying each of his golfer’s unique styles and motions.
This approach works especially well with Berger, who says he relies more on feel than mechanics.
“Jeff will give me drills in practice that allow me to feel the feeling that he wants me to experience,” said Berger, who is playing on the Web.com Tour. “We don’t really work on things like angles or planes.”
This does not mean that Leishman ignores the technical side of the swing. He has embraced biomechanics and 3D motion-capture diagnostic tools and integrated them into his lessons, although he will be the first to admit that he is behind the curve in this area.
The 46-year-old Leishman, who lives in Jupiter, Fla., compensates for his lack of technical expertise by regularly consulting with others who have the knowledge. He is also always eager to learn more.
Leishman uses 3D motion-capture sensors on all of his clients.
“One swing produces 17 pages of data … the player doesn’t see that information, it’s incredible,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff, but from that there’s a very accurate measure of what’s going on.”
Leishman says that while most golfers are usually looking for immediate results, he is concerned with both short-term and long-term progress.
An evolution of improvement is one of the tenets of Leishman’s teaching principles and no one personifies it better than his young student.
Following his sophomore year at FSU in 2013, Berger turned professional and began competing on the Web.com tour. In four starts, he missed the cut three times and tied for 47th in his final appearance of the season.
Things are different this year. He has three top-10 finishes so far, including two third-place results during a three-tournament span. Currently, he sits 13th on the Web.com money list and is on pace to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2015 season.
Last weekend — exactly one year after turning pro — Berger drained that birdie putt on No. 18. What made the experience even more special for the youngster was that his father came out of the crowd to caddy for the last half of the final hole.