- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lefty is facing the prospect of an Open and shut season.

For the first time since the revelation last month that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, Phil Mickelson shared his emotions and discussed his plans to step away from the game indefinitely following next week’s U.S. Open.

“Obviously we’re going through a tough time right now,” Mickelson said at a St. Jude Classic news conference. “We won’t get started on our treatment till July 1. We’re fortunate. We believe we caught it early enough to where we don’t have to rush into decisions and we can make some good long-term decisions, decisions that will hopefully prevent this from reoccurring, as well as decisions that will hopefully beat this quickly.”

The world’s No. 2 golfer has not competed since tying for 55th at the Players Championship on May 10, withdrawing shortly before the Byron Nelson (May 18-24) when the couple learned of Amy’s illness. The 38-year-old Mickelson will use this week’s event at TPC Southwind as a competitive tuneup for next week’s U.S. Open at Bethpage, and then the couple and their three children will spend a week vacationing in a “tropical area” before returning to San Diego for Amy’s surgery.

Beloved as much for his extensive interaction with fans as the aggressive style and sublime skills that have netted him 36 PGA Tour victories and three major titles, Lefty responded with typical candor Wednesday to a series of emotionally charged questions.

“Yeah, we’re certainly scared,” Mickelson said. “I think a lot of it is the unknown. 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. But we won’t know this until a week or two after surgery, until some more pathology tests have been done.

“I’ve never felt this emotional. I’ve never been this emotional where if I’m driving alone or what have you, I’ll just start crying. It’s kind of a weird thing. I’m looking forward to have a four- or five-hour mental break where I force myself to focus on something else. I’m looking forward to that.”

Tiger Woods expressed almost an identical sentiment when he returned to competition six weeks after his father’s death at the 2006 U.S. Open. Woods missed the cut that week at Winged Foot, and fear of a similar result is one reason Mickelson chose to play this week in Memphis.

“I’m playing here because I believe I can win next week, and I need to get a little bit in a competitive frame of mind if I expect to have any chance next week,” said Mickelson, who understandably has practiced little since Amy’s diagnosis. “I’m not playing just to play. I think Bethpage is a golf course that suits my game. I love playing on that course. I love playing in the New York area.

“My quest is to win my first U.S. Open after four seconds, numerous close calls, me caring about this tournament so much. But right now I’m just fortunate that I’m going to be able to play, and I hope to play well. I know that after that, I got something going on that’s more important and takes my mind off it.”

It won’t be the first time Mickelson has competed in a U.S. Open while his mind was elsewhere. With the birth of the couples’ first child imminent, Mickelson famously carried a “baby beeper” throughout his brilliant battle with Payne Stewart and eventual runner-up finish at the 1999 U.S. Open, pledging to leave Pinehurst at a moment’s notice should Amy call.

Given Mickelson’s popularity, Bethpage might eclipse the energy seen at any previous major should the game’s top two players again swap shots at the top of the leader board on the brutish Black Course.

“In 2002, Bethpage was an emotional experience for me,” Mickelson said. “I anticipate it being an emotional experience playing this year’s U.S. Open. … I don’t think [Amy’s condition] will affect how I play.”

Amy’s illness will, however, impact the remainder of his schedule. Mickelson likely will skip the British Open (July 16-19) and might miss the remainder of the season, much like Woods last year.

“For the next 12 months, we’re going to have a lot of treatment,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know when I’ll play again. I just don’t know what our treatment schedule will be like after surgery. I don’t know really when that will happen. I don’t think it’s going to be for a while, but I don’t know exactly what we’re facing yet. We’re going to go through this together. She’s always been there for me. She’s always been there for her friends and family. It’s our turn to be there for her.”

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