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A Golfer Aiming to Save More Than Strokes on a Scorecard

At the 2015 Presidents Cup, the Australian Marc Leishman beat Jordan Spieth, then the world No. 1, in the singles competition. Leishman’s 1-up victory came three months after he lost in a British Open playoff, but his hot streak didn’t do much for his public profile.

Before Leishman went wire-to-wire this month to win the third of four events in the recently completed FedEx Cup playoffs, Jim Mackay, the former caddie of Phil Mickelson, described him as golf’s most underrated player.

Leishman’s circle of followers has recently expanded to include, among others, Erica Cornelius, an Arkansan who does not consider herself a golf fan. And yet she will faithfully watch the tournament coverage whenever Leishman is competing, including this week when he leads the International team against a heavily favored United States squad in the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club.

“His smile, even if you are having the worst day ever, will make you smile,” Cornelius said in a telephone interview.

Cornelius’s initial link to Leishman was his wife, Audrey, who, like Cornelius, is a survivor of sepsis. In April 2015, Audrey Leishman developed toxic shock syndrome, which triggered sepsis, a life-threatening reaction by the body to an infection. She spent the better part of five days in a medically induced coma and was given a 5 percent chance of survival. Marc Leishman cannot forget how close he came to losing her.

He took a photograph of his wife when she was breathing with the help of a ventilator. Audrey Leishman said she refers to it whenever she is laid low by lingering fatigue and muscle weakness, because it reminds her of how far she has come.

“It took a very, very long time for me to feel good again,” she said.

Cornelius, who has battled sepsis twice, started a support group on Facebook for survivors. The page attracted the attention of Audrey Leishman, who responded to a post. From there, a friendship took root. Leishman had no idea so many others had been afflicted with sepsis, which can be caused by something as simple as a cut or an insect bite and can lead to tissue damage and organ failure. It kills 258,000 Americans a year, according to a 2016 report by the advocacy group Sepsis Alliance. Identifying the symptoms early is critical, Marc Leishman said, because every hour that sepsis goes untreated, the mortality rate increases by 7 percent. “If you can catch it early, it’s antibiotics, probably in the hospital for a day, and see you later,” he said. “If you don’t catch it early enough, there’s probably going to be a funeral not too far down the road.”

To create awareness and to assist sepsis survivors, the Leishmans started the Begin Again Foundation last year. Cornelius and her husband, Samuel, are among the several hundred families to have received $1,000 grants from the foundation to defray expenses in the past year and a half. Last October, Cornelius and her husband were guests of the Leishmans at a charity golf tournament for the foundation that was held in Virginia Beach, where the Leishmans make their home. The trip was a big deal to Cornelius, who said her bouts with sepsis have made her reluctant to leave the house because she becomes anxious that she will get sick again.

“Audrey and Marc have changed my life,” said Cornelius, who cited their financial and emotional support.

“There are people I’ve known my whole life who disappeared because they really didn’t know what to do or say,” Cornelius said, adding: “Audrey’s always there when I need an ear. She’s so compassionate.”

The burden on the caretakers of sepsis survivors can be great. Audrey Leishman said Marc had “really stepped up” during her recovery, taking a more active role in caring for their sons, Harvey, 5, and Oliver, 3.

Leishman’s willingness to do whatever is required of him dates to his late teens when he briefly worked a graveyard shift operating a laser cutter, turning thick sheets of metal into different shapes, to help pay his tournament entry fees. He had a hard time staying awake, an occupational hazard of an undertaking in which, he said, “you could lose a limb pretty easily if you’re not careful.”