Commentary

Mickelson in hunt with wife at his side

Updated: January 29, 2011, 8:50 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SAN DIEGO -- This is how things are supposed to be when you are Amy Mickelson. Enjoying the incredible, warm sunshine. Taking in the views of the Pacific. Chatting with total strangers.

And following husband Phil on the golf course.

It all seemed so routine the past two days at Torrey Pines, but of course if you know the Mickelson story, this was a milestone in her battle with breast cancer.

[+] EnlargeAmy Mickelson
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAmy Mickelson made an appearance at last year's Ryder Cup, but Friday was the first time she was able to follow husband Phil on the course since the 2009 Players Championship.

For the first time since the 2009 Players Championship -- before her dreadful cancer diagnosis was announced -- Amy Mickelson trotted along outside the ropes, walking all 18 holes both Thursday and Friday at Torrey Pines, where -- coincidentally or not -- Phil is in contention at the Famers Insurance Open.

"It's really, really fun," Amy beamed after Phil's round. "It feels normal, and normal is good. It feels like we're getting back. This is huge for me."

Amy was in Wales for the Ryder Cup, where she trudged around a bit in the mud and took a few golf cart rides while dodging rain drops.

Prior to that, her only golf tournament appearance was at the Masters, where she was too weak to go to the golf course but where she nonetheless mustered the strength to get to Augusta National just in time for Phil to walk off the 18th green in victory.

That might have been golf's moment of the year.

"It doesn't get any better than this," Amy said Friday amid the brilliant sunshine, remarking that the Torrey Pines tournament typically sees cooler temperatures.

She walked around Torrey Pines with several friends, just miles from her Rancho Santa Fe home, acknowledging the good wishes of fans who deem her nearly as famous as her husband.

Amy is so personable and outgoing that she knows so many people in and around the game and can't help herself from offering warm, friendly greetings. Waiting for Phil to sign his scorecard Friday, she came bounding over to say hello to a group of golf writers. "It is so good to see you guys," she said -- which is not necessarily something you'd hear from Phil.

But that's Amy, even during the recent tough times.

Phil has been understandably cautious when talking about Amy's health in the past 18 months, not wanting to divulge too much, while also trying to be respectful of others who suffer from cancer. (He's also had his own health issues -- an arthritis diagnosis last year -- to worry about, something he typically downplays.)

But you couldn't help but notice how much it meant to the 38-time PGA Tour winner to have his wife alongside him at his hometown event.

"It's been a lot of fun having Amy out here this week," he said. "She just looks terrific. And after a year and a half, we're in such a better place, and it's been a lot of fun having her out here."

Mickelson shot 69 on Torrey Pines' North course a day after carding a 67 on the South to finish at 136, 8 under par. He trails leader Bill Haas by 3 strokes and had a legitimate shot at victory where he has won three times but not in 10 years.

Coming off an average performance last week in Abu Dhabi, the good play is somewhat of a surprise, given the time change and travel. Maybe it's due to Amy?

"No credit here," she said, laughing. "He's ready to do well, whoever is here or not."

Last week Phil took the entire family to the Middle East -- just a month after they had gone to Egypt. That alone should say something about Amy's recovering health, as those are long trips.

"We learned a lot and I loved it," she said. "It was a good opportunity for the kids to learn. We went to Dubai and we learned a lot. It was a fascinating culture. I've never been somewhere like that. It's unique."

The Mickelson kids went camel riding on the grounds of the Emirates Palace Hotel.

Amy said the trip to Cairo and Luxor last month was a special treat, given that Phil could have done without the traveling after a long year, and with another about to start.

A side trip to Morocco had to be scrapped because the plane could not land in a sandstorm that was 3,000 feet high.

"It was just so good of Phil to do all of that with us," she said.

He probably could have skipped the trip to the Middle East last week, but the lure of a seven-figure appearance fee and bringing the family along was too much to pass up.

Mickelson also used his time at the course to get in work with his coach, Butch Harmon, who was in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps a tie for 37th is not what Mickelson had in mind, but the trip and practice on his game was part of a bigger plan.

"I didn't finish the year last year the way I wanted to, and I wanted to try to make 2011 the year that I thought 2010 was going to be," said Mickleson, whose only victory last year came at the Masters. "So I started getting to work a little bit earlier. I had spent some time with Butch.

"I was fortunate to have him there last week and build a foundation last week that will hopefully carry through the rest of the year as far as my golf swing, fundamentals, making sure I'm on the right path heading into the season."

So far, so good.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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