Phil Mickelson, the No. 2 player in the world golf rankings, said today that he expects to skip next month’s British Open while his wife, Amy, recuperates from breast cancer surgery. Mickelson also raised questions about his participation in the season’s final major, the PGA Championship (Aug. 13-16), by saying he envisions an August return to PGA Tour competition as “the earliest” he would consider after he competes at this week’s U.S. Open.
“We won’t know our treatment schedule after surgery until about a week or so, until we have some other tests done,” Mickelson said during a news conference this morning in Farmingdale, N.Y., site of Thursday’s opening round at Bethpage State Park.
Mickelson, 39, took a four-week break from tour competition _ including withdrawls at both Dallas-Fort Worth events _ after learning in May of Amy’s diagnosis. Mickelson said Wednesday said he “most likely” will skip the British Open, adding that August “probably … would be the earliest” he would consider a return to competitive golf.
Mickelson, a three-time major champion, seeks his first U.S. Open title at Bethpage. He has been a runner-up at the event four times in the past decade. Mickelson said his wife, who is scheduled for surgery in early July, has tried to motivate him to play well this week.
“She’s left a number of little next, texts, cards, hints that she would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room,” Mickelson said. “So I’m trying to accommodate that.”
_ Jimmy Burch
BELOW IS A LOOK AT SOME RESPONSES FROM MICKELSON'S NEWS CONFERENCE, AS PROVIEDED BY TOURNAMENT OFFICIALS ....
PHIL MICKELSON: From a player's standpoint, we're excited to be back at Bethpage, and it's a wonderful golf course. The fact that it's a municipal course; the fact anybody can play it adds to the lure. And it's one of the great successes that the USGA has done in the past decade, taking a risk and coming to a municipal course, but it has worked out incredibly. It's one of our favorite Open venues.
Q. Phil, you received great, great support here in 2002; and a municipal course, sort of a blue-collar kind of crowd that comes out to Bethpage Black and you were such a fan favorite in 2002. Considering the circumstances you're coming into right now, how uplifting, how much do you think this crowd will play into your emotions and motivation going into the weekend and dealing with all that you're dealing with right now?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. I don't know. It will be a fun week. I'm putting everything I have into this week, because I don't anticipate being able to play for a little while. And the fact that my normal support system, Amy and the kids and so forth, aren't going to make the trip this week; I'm kind of hoping to have that or feel the support to kind of help me through the week.
Q. Do you know what to expect of yourself this week, as far as golf goes with all that is still in your head?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that for now we have kind of -- we have a good game plan set. The first couple of weeks we didn't know what was going to happen, what was going to take place. But ever since our original diagnosis, we've had little tidbits of good news here and there.
We'll start our treatment July 1st. We'll have a great family vacation next week. And we have kind of a game plan on moving forward.
Last week was important for me to play, I thought, in Memphis. It was important for two reasons: To get back into competition and also to have a chance to see some of our friends, the fellow players' wives, caddies, tournament directors, people who have been so supportive of us.
The people that did one of the nicest things I've ever seen for us, which was the Pink Out in Colonial. To be able to show my appreciation to those who did that. And on behalf of myself and Amy, to be able to let them know how appreciative we are.
It was important to do that last week so that I'm able to focus more on just playing golf this week.
Q. I just wonder, you talked a little bit about the support. But can you just talk a little bit about the value of that support and if you ever had, not just for you, but for Amy, and if there's been any surprising bit of support that came to you, anybody that maybe you might not have expected; some people that may have reached out that maybe you weren't close with or whatever, you know?
PHIL MICKELSON: The timing could not have been better. A couple weeks ago was -- when you first find out, when you first get diagnosed and all these thoughts go through your head, the timing of it could not have been better: The Pink Out at Colonial; and the articles that many of you wrote, meant a lot to Amy and I.
I know I called a number of you, and it just came at a great time for us, because that feeling of support meant a lot. And I don't know how to put it into words how appreciative Amy and I are of that. It was just the nicest thing that we've seen. It meant a lot.
And we don't feel like we're alone in this. And there are 200,000 people that go through this, or get diagnosed with breast cancer alone every year. So we are by far a long ways away from being the only person going through this. So many people do. But to feel that support, it means a lot.
Q. Before you left home to come here, discussions with Amy, what did she say about what she'd like to see you do this week and how she'd like to see you handle this?
PHIL MICKELSON: She's left me a number of little notes, texts, cards, hints, that she would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room. So I'm going to try to accommodate that.
Q. Where is your game right now? How would you sort of characterize it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've actually been hitting the ball better than I have in a long time. And possibly ever. I know it doesn't seem like it after my score at Memphis, didn't score very well.
But I'm really excited about how things have come along, ball-striking wise. When Amy is going through tests and I'm sitting in a hospital for 10 hours, I'm thinking about -- I was thinking about a lot of things. But I would take a break and think about my golf swing. I would talk to Butch.
Even though we didn't hit any balls, I actually got my swing to where we wanted it to be able to hit little cut shots, control my misses, and I'm very optimistic about my ball-striking this week.
I think the key for me will be on the greens. I putted these greens very well in '02, and if I have a good putting week, I expect to be in contention on Sunday.
Q. How is Amy feeling, both physically and emotionally, and what's it like not having her with you this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: She's doing very well. We don't start for a couple of weeks. And you'd never know that she was going through this right now. When we get started, it will be different. But she's an amazing person.
I don't know how to express how lucky I am, because you see -- everybody sees her when she comes out, how she treats people, how she interacts with people, how she connects with people, how she looks people in the eye and genuinely cares about what's going on in their life.
And she's like that every day. I get to experience that every day with her. And she's just an amazing individual. And I think that it's hard for me to see somebody that is such a good person go through something so difficult.
But otherwise, she's doing great.
Q. In '99, you dealt with a much different off-course issue while playing the Open waiting for the birth of your child. What do you remember about playing for that week, compartmentalizing and focusing on golf versus off the course things?
PHIL MICKELSON: That was an amazing -- it was a very interesting week. She and I -- I think for parents, your most emotional experience that you ever share is the birth of your child. And we've been fortunate to do that three times.
That was a week where we were excited about what's to come. And this is an entirely opposite feel, because we're scared about what's going to come. So it's different. I don't really know how else to say it.
Q. A lot of people are wondering whether you'll be able to maintain your focus throughout the week, but at the same time could this tournament present a nice distraction from the more important things that are going on in your life right now, to finally just not think about anything for a little bit and just be on the course?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that's what it will hopefully be. I love playing in the New York area. The people here have treated me and my family incredibly, and I love coming back here and playing here. Bethpage is one of my favorite golf courses. To be able to play this Open, I'm excited that things worked out so forth.
But I'm more excited that the reason I'm able to play is we've had some good news that has not rushed treatment, has given us the time, an opportunity to see some test results and give us better direction on what we should do to not just cure her but prevent it from coming back in the future.
So that's another reason why I'm excited that I'm able to be here, is because we've had good news.
Q. Tiger was in here yesterday and he pointed out when his father was sick and he was going through some emotional times, that being on the course, while it's a distraction, you're also constantly reminded the support you're getting and people saying things to you. Can it be a bit of a double-edged sword in that sense where it's almost overwhelming and it's difficult to focus on the actual golf?
PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly. Or it could be that that support helps carry me through emotionally when I'm on the course. I'm certainly hoping for that.
Q. How much consideration did you give to just taking a big chunk of time off, and why ultimately did you decide to come back and play these two tournaments?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think we wanted to get more into a normal pace of life, normal stuff that we do; get the kids to camps; have play dates with the kids. We had a birthday party Monday for our daughter.
We want to try to keep life as normal as we could. We're going to go through treatment. We're optimistic with what the end result will be. But the process itself won't be easy.
In the interim, though, we want to try to have as normal a life as possible.
Q. I think a lot of people don't understand the role of TOUR wife. You have a different relationship with Amy as your TOUR wife. Why is she so important to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I could go on and on about that. And I think the thing that I would say is that a couple of weeks ago when we were diagnosed, there were a number of articles that were written that were so nice. And we were so appreciative.
But in all those articles, there was always a little personal experience that each one of you have had with her. And she doesn't have a mean bone in her body. She thinks about others first. She genuinely is concerned and cares about everybody that she comes in contact with.
She loves being a mother, and she's an incredible mother; the time she puts in with the kids to uplift them and encourage them in the areas that they enjoy.
And for me she's just been the most amazing spouse you can imagine. Supportive and loving, but also an incredible mother, and yet she keeps things interesting. She's not afraid to give me a little ribbing. And she's just made my life so enjoyable to live. It's just hard for me to see her go through this, but we're going to get through this together. And it's a great opportunity for me to be there for her, and it's brought us closer.
Q. When you played last week, did you find that the golf course was something of a sanctuary? If so, how did that manifest itself in your game?
PHIL MICKELSON: I did enjoy having a bit of a reprieve, if you will, in getting on a golf course and forcing myself to concentrate on something else.
I didn't score the way I would like to. But I hit the ball pretty well. I was pretty pleased with a lot of the shots I hit. I had come to Bethpage on Tuesday before and knew what type of tee shots I was going to be hitting and tried to make those fit in Memphis and thought I did an okay job. I was pleased with that.
I thought it was a little better performance than I gave in Houston getting ready for the Masters. So that was another plus.
Q. Given the way this area has welcomed you and everything like that in the past, are you ready for what you're likely to receive tomorrow afternoon, when you tee off?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I'm going to just do the best that I can. 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.
Q. When you're out here, of course you live a certain element of your life very publicly; then there are matters of your life you try to keep very private, too, I'm sure, as well. That being said, the fact that you and Amy are going to go through this with incredible amounts of attention on you, is there a drawback to going through something like this with really the whole golf world watching kind of every step of the way?
PHIL MICKELSON: As much as the support has meant to us over the last couple of weeks, going through something like this publicly is much more difficult than it is privately, because there is no reprieve. When she goes to the mall, she gets people that she knows or hasn't seen in a while come up and cry. There's no place for her to go to forget for a little while.
I just think it's more difficult carrying out publicly, but, again, the support has meant the world to us. So there's give and take.
Q. How crucial is driving the golf ball out here for you, and how many drivers do you think you'll hit?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the course is set up very fair off the tee, and that the golf course is long, but the fairway width is reasonable in that you can hit them.
The rough, as challenging as it is, it gives you six to ten yards just off the fairway of possibility of getting the ball to or on the green. Because of that, I anticipate hitting quite a few drivers.
There are certainly holes like No. 18 where it forces you to play to a wider part of the fairway and hit an iron or so. But there's only a couple of those holes. I expect to hit a number of drivers.
Q. The course this year is set up a little differently than in '02, a little more flexibility. A number of the fairway bunker carries like 285 or so in the air. It gets you a little more optimal position here and there. Did you explore some of those like on 12, on 5, on 7, some of the holes, and did you assess whether those were worth risking to get a bit of an advantage with a driver?
PHIL MICKELSON: I did. I have observed that. I looked at that closely last week. There are some times that it is worth it and some times it's not.
I thought No. 6 is an example. I thought I hit a couple of drivers right down to the bottom of the hill. Had 90 yards left. However, five yards off the fairway left the hay was so thick that most likely you'll lose your golf ball and also not be able to get back to the fairway.
I didn't feel as though gaining 50 or 60 yards into the green was worth the potential two-shot penalty. So I'll end up playing back on a hole like No. 6.
But a hole like No. 9, I felt like the risk was worth it if I was able to get past that bunker. When I played, I couldn't; it was wet and raining, and the tee box was 45 yards further back than it was in '02. And I just couldn't get past that bunker.
But if I can, I think it's worth it, because I hit 5-iron off that green in downhill lie; and if I can have a 9-iron or wedge in, I would definitely prefer that. I think it's worth the half-shot penalty.
Q. You're enough of a sports fan, I know you're probably pretty conversant with the New York sports fan and how vocal they are. They've adopted you for the most part the last few times you've been here. Does it surprise you? Has it surprised you how quickly and completely they've taken to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: Mainly. I love talking sports with people in New York, because there's probably no place that has as knowledgeable sports fans as here in New York. I've kind of brushed up on my information on the New York Giants and the Jets and Yankees and Mets; in case I get into some discussions, I know what I'm talking about.
I thought that knowing a little bit about those teams would be probably wise on my part.
Q. How did you celebrate your birthday yesterday and what did you get this time?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, it was tough to top last year's dinosaur. (Laughter).
And we celebrated with the family. We all went to breakfast together. My little favorite breakfast joint. And my kids brought me breakfast in bed first, but then we decided to go out. (Laughter).
Amy got me a couple of cool things, though, and I love it when she picks me out fashion stuff like sunglasses or such, and she did that, which was good, because my fashion sense isn't the best. So I have to rely on her. And she also got me a very cool little mini camera that has 30 frames a second capability so that I can have Bones film my swing or have Butch film it and show me what he's talking about without having to bring out the big video cameras and such.