Mickelson heads into St. Jude with heavy heart

The main thing that struck me about Phil Mickelson’s first address about wife Amy’s breast cancer was how heavy his heart seemed. He appeared on a sad emotional edge, understandably, as he discussed the ordeal confronting the woman he called the “most charismatic person I’ve ever met.”

To look at him there at that St. Jude Classic news conference in Memphis, one couldn’t help but think that Mickelson could be hard-pressed to plow through all the emotion and concentrate on playing golf well enough to contend this week or, more important, next week at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Tiger Woods is on an emotional high after winning the Memorial after a flawless final round. Mickelson is on an emotional low because, as he put it, “We’re scared,” and his wife faces a “lot of treatment” in the year after early July surgery.

The gap might be too much for Mickelson to overcome.

Mickelson said his game is not far off in terms of physical performance, but he knows being on task mentally is the challenge. That was his money quote Wednesday. He said he has no idea on how sharp his focus inside the ropes will be over this fortnight, or whether he’ll be able to get into rounds mentally.

The good news is that he said doctors caught the cancer “early enough”–early enough to postpone treatment to July 1 and allow him to compete in a national Open in which he has finished second four times. What’s more, he says he looks forward to playing for the first time in about a month and getting daily 4-5-hour mental breaks from the harsh realities of life.

The heavy heart can be a double-edged sword. We’ve seen it work both ways. We’ve seen Ben Crenshaw win the Masters the same week his dear old teacher, Harvey Penick, died. But we’ve seen an emotionally drained Woods miss the Open cut at Winged Foot in 2006 after mourning the death of his father.

So we could happily see Mickelson win one for Amy in front of his beloved New York fans. Or we could see him give into distraction.

“I’m playing here because I believe I can win next week,” he said.

Let’s hope that’s not just lip service. But it might be. After all, he said he has never felt as emotional as he had the past three weeks. He talked of crying while driving a car. He talked of being touched by support from all corners.

The Open could be the last time we see him play for a while. He’s not sure of his schedule. He just said he thinks it’ll be a while before he competes again after treatment starts.

That sounds like no British Open for him.

But that’s not what matters right now. Peace and life do.

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