They are ready for his arrival here, with bright pink outfits and ribbons, with supportive messages on signs and T-shirts, and above all, with their love. Phil Mickelson will play his first practice round Wednesday at Bethpage Black. He knows he’ll be the sentimental favorite at the U.S. Open from the moment his spikes dig into the soggy turf.
They are mothers and sisters, students and grandparents, marshals and concessionaires. They have watched from afar as Mickelson and his wife Amy began their very public fight against breast cancer, and now they finally have their chance to stand with them.
“You have to support the team,” a fan named Susan Ertelt said from a spot behind the putting green.
She was leaning against a fence near the putting green in pink Lilly Pulitzer shoes, pink Capri pants and a pink blouse, an outfit bright enough to distract even the most focused golfers. They better get used to it.
The galleries already picked Mickelson as their guy during the 2002 Open here, and his wife’s diagnosis has only intensified that support. It would be hard to imagine an athlete facing more emotion than Mickelson this week, and no one would fault him if he buckled under the weight.
“I couldn’t imagine dealing with what he has to deal with on a daily basis,” said his rival, Tiger Woods, who missed the cut in the 2006 Open a few weeks after his father passed away. “Everywhere you go people are reminding you of it. You think the golf course would be your escape, but it’s not.”
But if he can somehow handle it? If Mickelson can find a way focus and win this tournament for the first time? It will go down as one of the greatest victories in golf history.
“You know something? He can make a statement here,” Rod Zuch, one of the marshals here this week, said from his post at the 11th tee box. “He can say, ‘I’m going to beat up the Black like we’re going to beat up cancer.'”
Zuch knows something about that. His daughter, Morgan, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just 2, and as he lived through the darkest days of his life, a funny thing happened on the golf course.
He got better. He went from a 10 handicap to a scratch golfer because he understood what really mattered in life, that a double bogey is nothing when your daughter is facing chemotherapy.
Morgan is 10 now, her cancer in remission, and Zuch and his wife opened a nonprofit preschool for children fighting the disease. Mickelson will pass the couple on the 11th hole Wednesday, and if he pays close attention, he’ll notice that every marshal on that hole will be wearing a pink ribbon.
Not that he’ll have to look very hard to see the love this week. He’ll feel it everywhere.
Ben Herrmann and Alison Autiero, two college students from Syracuse, were standing along the ropes near the second hole yesterday with matching T-shirts. The front is a birthday wish to Mickelson, who turned 39 Tuesday. The back has the words “Amy” and “Believe,” along with a pink ribbon.
“We want him to know we’re with him,” Herrmann said.
Brian Cameron, a 12-year-old from Levittown, N.Y., did the unthinkable and pulled his least favorite shirt from his closet, the pink striped one his mother made him wear one night on a cruise.
“I’ll do it for Phil,” the kid announced.
Steve Kohlmann, a Port Jefferson, N.Y., resident, tried to find a pink shirt in his closet, but came to the practice round in something closer to maroon. His heart was in the right place, but his eyes …
“I’m colorblind,” he said with a laugh.
Duffy Griffiths and his friend, Stephen Czelatcka, wore matching pink tie-dye golf shirts that they made specially for the day. Griffiths always felt a connection with Mickelson, one that strengthened after Amy’s diagnosis. His mother died of breast cancer 12 years ago.
She was just 52.
“It’s a terrible thing,” he said. “But everybody goes through it.”
Which is what makes the Mickelsons’ battle resonate with everyone, of course. They have all been there, not with the attention that the U.S. Open brings, but with the same issues and stress and overwhelming emotions.
The best way — maybe the only way — to get through it is with the support of others. Mickelson arrives here Wednesday to face the toughest test in golf with his mind on a far scarier opponent.
Amy’s Army is ready.
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