From the NY Daily News – Bethpage Black Opens Arms to Phil

Published on: 19th June, 2009


From the NY Daily News - Bethpage Black Opens Arms to Phil

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 21: (FILE PHOTO) Phil Mickelson of the USA team walks to the clubhouse with his wife Amy after the USA 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory over Europe on the final day of the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club on September 21, 2008 in Louisville, Kentucky. According to reports May 20, 2009, Phil Mickelson will suspend his PGA tour after his wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) Original Filename: GYI0057494892.jpg  | read this item

No matter where it is, Amy Mickelson has always been by her man Phil’s side.

The applause began as Phil Mickelson made the short walk from the 18th green to the first tee at Bethpage Black, and it built to an emotional crescendo that was unlike anything you normally hear for a practice round.

This was the first chance for the golf fans who have unofficially adopted Mickelson as New York’s favorite son to send him their own message of love and support for the ordeal that he and his wife, Amy, have been going through since she was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month ago.

They practically carried him around Bethpage all morning with applause and shout-outs of “Tell Amy we’re praying for her,” which Mickelson unfailingly greeted with thumbs-up gestures, but the show of affection was loudest as he came to the first tee.

Fans had crowded their way there, aware that Mickelson had played the back nine first, and by the time he reached the first tee shortly before noon, the size of the crowd was such that hundreds of people were too far back to have any chance of seeing him. Yet they wanted to be part of the spectacle, cheering as if to send their own personal message to Mickelson.

And you could only imagine what this place will sound like should he be in the hunt come Sunday afternoon.

The question is whether Mickelson can pull off such a feat under such difficult circumstances. At his press conference before his practice round yesterday, Mickelson said he is especially looking forward to his now-famous New-York style reception here because Amy and his three kids – “my normal support system,” as he put it – aren’t with him this week.

At the same time, Mickelson acknowledged that as he tries to compartmentalize his emotions this week, he’s not sure what impact such an outpouring of support from fans will have on him. Only a week ago, when he returned to the PGA Tour in Memphis, he admitted the toll is so heavy that he just starts crying at times while driving alone in his car.

“I’m not sure, I’m just going to do the best I can,” he said yesterday. “I feel like my game is ready, but you just never know. I feel like emotionally I’m better, but you just never know. So we’ll play it by ear, day-by-day.”

Mickelson is hoping the focus needed on the golf course will allow him to escape the strain of worrying about the treatment his wife will endure in the coming weeks, but who knows if that’s possible. Based on the experiences of other golfers, it seems to depend on the individual.

Padraig Harrington endorsed such a notion, saying that he found playing golf to be therapeutic while his late father was battling cancer a few years ago. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, said that under similar circumstances in 2006, when Earl Woods was seriously ill, playing golf only reminded him more of his father’s condition.

Then there is Stephen Ames, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and currently the 52nd-ranked player in the world. Four years ago, his wife Jodi was diagnosed with lung cancer, for which she underwent successful treatment in the summer of 2005 while Ames continued to play golf.

Like Amy Mickelson, Jodi Ames normally accompanied her husband, with her two young children, to many tournaments. That summer Ames played two majors, the British Open and the PGA Championship, while she was home undergoing treatment, and says it was no accident that he missed the cut and finished tied for 72nd in those majors.

“How tough was it?” he said at Bethpage this week, repeating a question. “Mentally, it was impossible. I didn’t feel like I was playing golf. Everything was just a blur. Subconsciously it’s always there.”

Ames said he didn’t realize just how much he was affected until his wife recovered and rejoined him on the Tour late that summer.

“When you see her and you realize the problem is over,” Ames said, “then you’re like, ‘Oh, is this what I’m supposed to do with the golf ball?’

“That’s how much of a blur it was. I play with vision, visualizing shots, and when she was back with me, I could see shots I wasn’t seeing. I guess because if I was thinking about it subconsciously while she was gone, I’m not going to see the shot.”

Ames nearly won the Canadian Open, the first tournament at which his wife was with him again, and finished the season with three Top 10s in his final handful of tournaments.

Ames isn’t close enough to Mickelson to have talked to him about his situation, and he says that perhaps Mickelson is strong enough mentally to handle it.

“He’s No. 2 in the world, he’s there for a reason,” Ames said. “It’s not because of his short game and his putting. You’ve gotta be mentally strong to be where he is. But it’s still a burden. Especially at a major like the U.S. Open, where it’s such a game of patience, I think it’s important to be mentally prepared, more so than physically. I haven’t talked to him, I’m sure he’s got plenty of support, or he wouldn’t be here.

“But if he needs it, I’m there. I just hope all goes well for them.”

You hear that a lot this week. In truth, Mickelson isn’t the most popular player among his peers, regarded as a bit aloof, according to golf insiders, but his wife seems to be universally adored, well-known on Tour for befriending other wives, and players as well, especially in team settings at the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.

Woods has had a famously indifferent relationship with Mickelson over the years, yet his affection for Amy seemed genuine when he was asked about her condition this week.

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