Amy Mickelson back in her element at Augusta
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson waited at the bottom of the ninth fairway for the green to clear when he looked over to his left and broke into a big smile. He touched two fingers to his eyes, then pointed them toward a blond woman in a royal blue dress.
Amy Mickelson laughed and waved back.
"I can't believe how much I've missed this place," she said Friday.
Her time at the Masters last year was short, yet sweeter than ever. On a golf course for the first time since being diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months earlier, she came out to the 18th green to watch her husband make one last birdie to win a third green jacket.
Their embrace outside the scoring hut provided one of the most compelling images of the Masters.
This year has been just as enjoyable, even as Mickelson squandered several good birdie chances and had to settle for a 72, leaving him well behind in his pursuit of another win.
She feels good enough, strong enough, to be back amid the beauty of Augusta National. She walked 18 holes while being constantly interrupted by fans who welcomed her back, wished her the best or just wanted to say they were thinking of her.
"We love this place," she said. "This place has been a part of some of the most special days of our lives. And it feels normal to be back, which is even better. I'm trying not focus on how I feel because I still have some ups and downs. But when I look back to year ago and see how far I've come, it's just tremendous."
She spent all week last year in Augusta, but rarely left the house.
Even so, Mickelson felt at peace having his wife and three children with him at the Masters. He took one or more of his kids to breakfast and played board games before it was time to go to the course. His wife stayed home with Jennifer Mackay, one of her best friends and the wife of caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay.
They were watching the final round when Mickelson, leading by one shot, put his tee shot into the Georgia pines to the right of the fairway on the par-5 13th. Then came the signature shot of last year's Masters — Mickelson going for the green from the pine straw, through a gap in the trees, the ball barely clearing Rae's Creek and settling 4 feet away.
"That's kind of when we knew we could probably come out to the course," she said. "Phil loves to share moments like that."
The only other tournament she attended this year was the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a short drive from their home. That was his best event of the year until he won last week at the Shell Houston Open.
Asked about seeing his wife in the gallery at the Masters for the first time in two years, Mickelson nodded toward the clubhouse and said with a smile, "Yeah, I'm going to go up and have lunch with her."
"It's fun having her out here," he said. "We're in such a much better place. You can tell she's doing so much better, and we're really, really happy about where we're at."
That goes for the entire family.
His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009. As she prepared for surgery, Mickelson learned his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, too. And just as their outlook began to improve, Mickelson learned last summer that he had psoriatic arthritis, putting his career in jeopardy.
Mickelson felt as though he had gotten his arthritis under control late last year. His wife is adjusting to her medication, and while she still has days and weeks when she's not at her best, "at least it's predictable."
"I'm starting to settle into my meds," she said.
Amy didn't arrive until Thursday night, flying out from San Diego with Mackay's wife. She figured three days at the Masters would be plenty of time, knowing that she had the energy to be out on the course amid the action, the people.
Few other wives are more engaging, happy to chat with just about anyone who strikes up a conversation. She sure dressed for the occasion, the bright blue dress and matching necklace made her easy to find. Her husband certainly had no problem spotting her on the ninth fairway.
"It's just so much fun to be in the present," she said. "I'm really proud of how far I've come since this week last year."