Thursday, June 11, 2009

Props to Phil, Ill be pulling for you.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- His voice was halting at times. The emotion raw.

The strain of the last three weeks was visible in Phil Mickelson's red-rimmed eyes as he met with the media Wednesday for the first time since his wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. And in the words he chose so carefully.

"I've never been this emotional where if I'm driving alone or what have you I'll just start crying," Mickelson said. "It's kind of a weird thing.

"I'm looking forward to having a four or five hour mental break where I force myself to focus on something else."

Mickelson, who gets that break when he plays in the St. Jude Classic presented by FedEx and the U.S. Open, had released statements on his website updating his many fans on the diagnosis. The cancer was caught early he said. Doctors were hopeful. That was the good news.

And when the PGA TOUR Wives Association organized a "Pink Out" celebration at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial two weeks ago the couple, who married in 1996, was so moved by the outpouring of support that Amy responded herself.

This was different, though. Mickelson, who had been in relative seclusion since the announcement, stared into the glare of 12 TV cameras and took questions for a little over 15 minutes.

He opened with a statement, though, that was as heartfelt as heart-wrenching.

"I think she's the most charismatic person I've ever met," Mickelson said. "She touches people in a way that people don't get touched. It's just right to the heart. She has a way to have an impact on people, the way she looks you in the eye, the way she listens to what you have to say, and genuinely cares. ...

"I know how lucky I am to be able to be married to her because I see it every day. ... We've been together 16 years. ... She has made my life so fulfilling and enriching."

Every time Mickelson, who was wearing a white Callaway cap embroidered with a pink ribbon, spoke about the treatment, scheduled to begin on July 1, he used the words "we" or "our." Although no specifics have been released, it was clear Mickelson planned to be with his wife every step of the way.

"She's always been there for me," he said. "She's always been there for her friends and family. It's our turn to be there for her."

Yes, he's playing golf the next two weeks. And the family will take what Mickelson would only say is a vacation to a "tropical area" after the U.S. Open and before the treatment begins. Make no mistake, though, this situation is as serious as they come.

"We're scared, yeah. I think a lot of it is the unknown," Mickelson said. "You know, we've learned a lot in the last couple of weeks. We believe we have incredible doctors. We believe that we've caught this early. We won't know this until a week or two after surgery, until some more pathology tests have been done.

"I don't think it's going to affect how I play. I'm going to still play aggressively. But there's not really a carryover effect there. It's just that off the course I've never felt something like this.

"I think it's as hard or harder for somebody on the side. I would much rather be going through it and doing it myself than seeing somebody I care about so much go through it. I think that's difficult, yeah."

Amy isn't in Memphis this week. She's at home in San Diego with several friends while Mickelson's parents take the couple's three tow-headed kids on a camping trip. She won't be at Bethpage Black, either, but Mickelson is sure to have plenty of support from the New York fans.

He was there on Tuesday, grinding over his usual seven-hour practice round to prepare for the season's second major. One of Mickelson's four second-place finishes at the U.S. Open came on the Black Course in 2002 and he's eager for the challenge again.

"I'm not playing just to play," Mickelson said. "I think Bethpage is a golf course that suits my game, that I love playing on that course, I love playing in the New York area. I'm playing here because I believe I can win next week.

"Again, there's a lot of question marks that I'll have. But that's the goal."

Mickelson admittedly hasn't played a lot of golf over the last few weeks. Sometimes, though, when Amy was sleeping or occupied by friends or family, he'd head for the range or take the kids to the course for an hour or so.

"Ever since I was a little kid, the way I would deal with things would be go chip in my backyard before I could drive, or when I could drive, I would go to the course and hit a few balls," Mickelson said.

When he could keep from crying, that is.

So the game, Mickelson says, isn't that far off. His concentration may be a different story, though. And when his two-week foray back to the PGA TOUR is over? Well, don't expect to see Mickelson for a while.

"I don't know when I'll play again," he said. "I just don't know what our treatment schedule will be like after surgery. ... I don't think it's going to be for a while, but I don't know exactly what we're facing yet."

He just knows he'll be facing it with Amy.

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