Phil seeking a different kind of win

May, 20, 2009

In a recent Q&A with Golf Digest's Bob Verdi, Phil Mickelson spoke about his several close calls at past editions of the U.S. Open and what a victory at the major championship would mean to him personally.

"Obviously, I want to win a U.S. Open. And I've come close," Mickelson said. "Now, if I never win a U.S. Open, I'll look back at my career and wish I had, whether it was Pinehurst [1999] or Shinnecock [2004] or Winged Foot [2006] or wherever. But I believe that won't be an issue, because I believe I will win an Open. I think I have a great chance at Bethpage. I like it a lot."

With the announcement Wednesday that Amy Mickelson, Phil's wife of 13 years, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, all of a sudden prevailing at next month's tournament has taken a back seat to the stark reality of such devastating news in his personal life.

It would, in fact, be trivial to even consider the famed left-hander's playing schedule, which has been suspended indefinitely with no timetable for a return. That means he won't compete in this week's HP Byron Nelson Championship, nor will he defend his title at next week's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. After that, it's likely even the 36-time PGA Tour champion doesn't know what his season will entail, as priorities greater than golf will keep him from making any decisions until further news about his wife's illness is available.

An increasingly familiar face just outside the gallery ropes during her husband's competitive rounds -- and especially throughout his Ryder Cup career -- Amy was diagnosed with the condition after an extensive battery of tests. According to representatives at Gaylord Sports, "More tests are scheduled but the treatment process is expected to begin with major surgery, possibly within the next two weeks."

Phil Mickelson did not issue comment, and an e-mail from representatives said the family would have nothing else to say on this matter at the current time.

Tiger Woods issued this statement on the matter: "Elin and I are deeply saddened to hear the news about Amy. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, Phil, the children and the entire Mickelson family."

Unlike many of his professional golfing peers -- including No. 1-ranked Woods, whose wife Elin gave birth to the couple's second child earlier this year -- Mickelson has never steered his family away from the public spotlight. Amy not only travels to many of his appearances but is also at the forefront of many of his charitable efforts, including the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Homes for Our Troops and Birdies for the Brave. Meanwhile, children Amanda, 9, Sophia, 7, and Evan, 6, are each a ubiquitous presence on the final green any time their dad holes a tournament-clinching putt. At Phil's second of three career major victories, the 2005 PGA Championship, then-2-year-old Evan provided perhaps the most memorable image of the week, bounding around No. 18 at Baltusrol in oblivious celebration to the delight of thousands of spectators.

Anyone who has spent a modicum of time on the PGA Tour has a favorite Phil and Amy story. Mine took place during the second round of the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, when the husband hit a long iron shot on the par-3 sixth hole to the back-level pin position, then watched and listened as legions of fans in the gallery exploded into a massive ovation when the ball found the bottom of the cup for a hole-in-one. He proffered a sheepish grin, high-fived caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay, waved to the still-boisterous crowd, then sought his wife among those providing the thunderous applause. They kissed and then walked together toward the green, Amy simply playing the role of a spouse excited for her partner's success. No different than any other husband-wife duo, really, famous or not.

Based on the news that has been made available, it's impossible to know whether the four-time U.S. Open runner-up will compete next month at Bethpage and, if so, whether he will be mentally prepared for the year's most unrelenting grind. There are more important matters in Phil Mickelson's life right now, more meaningful than his current world ranking or placement on the FedEx Cup list or, yes, even winning major championships.

This story isn't about Phil Mickelson the golfer; it's about the Mickelson family trying to cope with a potentially tragic disease. Even so, it wouldn't be too improper to suggest that the sport's greatest recovery artist is hoping for the greatest recovery of his life: that of his wife. Until further news about Amy's condition is known, we can only hope she regains full health sooner rather than later.

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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