Phil Mickelson is grateful, hopeful and scared.
"Yeah, we're scared," he said, his voice quavering, admitting that since his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer, he has been more emotional than he ever had been. But golf, he said, will give him and his family a sense of normalcy, particularly golf at Bethpage, where he feels he has a strong chance to win.
"I'm not playing just to play," he said. "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. I'm playing here because I believe I can win next week."
Mickelson spoke during a news conference at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, his first public comments and his first tournament since the diagnosis last month. He played a practice round Tuesday at Bethpage in preparation for next week's U.S. Open. He was emphatic and upbeat about her treatment, which will begin July 1.
"We're fortunate, we believe we caught it early enough so where we don't have to rush into decisions," he said, "and we can make some good long-term decisions that will hopefully prevent this from recurring."
He said she and their three children probably will not accompany him to Bethpage. "I think it's difficult to face a lot of people. It's emotional," he said. "When you see people, and they're crying and so forth, it's just not easy to go through that.
"This is what we've kind of decided on, going about getting a little normalcy in our life, so here I am. It's been emotional for everybody involved - all of our family members, her parents, our friends."
On the course during the Masters at Augusta, Amy had said how much she and Phil were looking forward to returning to Bethpage, where the galleries at the 2002 U.S. Open treated him as if he were a local hero. The reception is likely to be off the charts next week. His birthday is Tuesday. Sunday, the final round, is Father's Day and will be his daughter Amanda's 10th birthday.
"In 2002, at Bethpage, it was an emotional experience for me then. I anticipate it being an emotional experience playing this year's U.S. Open," Mickelson said yesterday. "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. I know that after that, I've got something going on that's more important."
He sounded pleased that he had decided to take a redeye flight from California Monday night so he could get a practice round in at the Black. "I think the golf course is awesome. I mean, I've always loved the layout. But the setup is perfect. The fairway width is tough to hit, but it's fair. The rough is challenging but you can still play out of it."