Chris Pizzello/AP
Mike Fleeman
June 15, 2009 03:00 PM

Phil Mickelson plays this week on one of golf’s biggest stages, the U.S. Open tournament in New York, a high-stakes, nationally televised battle of the world’s best golfers that has long frustrated Mickelson, having finished in second place four times but never winning.

For Mickelson, ranked No. 2 in the tournament, the event will offer welcome relief: “I’m looking forward to having a four- or five-hour mental break where I force myself to focus on something else.”

Last month, Mickelson suspended his season on the PGA tour after his wife Amy 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He said he wouldn’t return to golf until doctors determined that Amy was well enough to travel with him. After missing a couple of tournaments, he was back at the Stanford St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tenn., with Amy able to come with him while the grandparents took their three children camping.

After the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday, Mickelson will suspend his schedule again to take Amy and the children on a vacation – he says it’ll be “in a tropical area” – then travel to Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., for Amy’s cancer treatment, which likely will include surgery, starting July 1.

The Toughest Weeks

“Obviously we’re going through a tough time right now,” Mickelson, who turns 38 on Tuesday, told reporters last week in Tennessee. “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. We’re getting ready to get started.”

The first two weeks after Amy’s diagnosis, Phil says, were “the toughest to date.” The thought of taking on his golf nemesis, Tiger Woods, and other superstars suddenly became the least of his worries. Instead, he’s taken time to realize how lucky he has been to be married to Amy. “She touches people in a way that people don’t get touched,” he says. “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. She has a quality about her that not many people have.”

These are thoughts, Mickelson says, that have caused him to look differently at himself. “Kind of an interesting thing is I’ve never felt this emotional,” he says. “I’ve never been this emotional where if I’m driving alone or what have you I’ll just start crying.”

Coping With Fear

Now, this usually unflappable player, known for showing no fear on the golf course, has to face another emotion. “We’re certainly scared,” he says. “I don’t think it’s going to affect how I play. I mean, I’m going to still, you know, play aggressively. There’s not really a carryover effect there. It’s just that, you know, off the course I’ve never felt something like this.”

As for his future as a pro, “I don’t know when I’ll play again,” he says. “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.”

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