Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Mickelsons' survival story brings hope to all

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It was perhaps the moment of the year.

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Golfer Phil Mickelson celebrated with his wife, Amy, after winning the Masters Tournament in 2010.  Rainier Ehrhardt/File
Rainier Ehrhardt/File
Golfer Phil Mickelson celebrated with his wife, Amy, after winning the Masters Tournament in 2010.

It was a moment about a champion. It was a moment about family. It was a moment about love and support. It was a moment about perseverance.

Phil and Amy Mickelson's tearful hug after he won the 2010 Masters Tournament was the ultimate breast cancer awareness moment. It was a moment that everyone whose lives have been touched by the indiscriminate disease shared in celebration of one family's triumph in the face of it.

"I don't normally shed tears over wins, and when Amy and I hugged off 18, that was a very emotional moment for us and something that I'll look back on and just cherish," Mickelson said.

He's not alone. For more than an hour after Mickelson's aggressive nature provided the signature shot from out of the trees on the 13th hole, anticipation built about whether Amy would make an appearance at the finish should he hold on to win. The PGA Tour's most outgoing and popular wife had not been seen publicly at a tournament since she was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months before.

As Mickelson was sizing up his final putt with a comfortable two-shot lead, his wife and family slipped into position outside the scorer's hut. Mickelson's caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, focused his attention on his boss, fearing a glimpse of Amy behind the green would prompt a premature crying jag.

When the Mickelsons fell into a one-minute embrace, Mackay and many others witnessing the scene on site and on television were reduced to "a puddle." The caddie needed a towel to wipe away his tears.

A family conquering adversity can do that.

"It was a more emotional experience than just winning a golf tournament for me and for us, and that moment was ... it meant a lot," Mickelson said. "It just meant a lot to us to be able to share something like that, to share that kind of joy given the last year or so."

For almost a year, the Mickelsons had become prominent faces of breast cancer awareness. Ironically, it was Phil's face in the public spotlight since Amy's once-familiar presence slipped back stage to deal privately with the surgeries and treatments and medications, to confront and control the demon that invaded her body. Mickelson's mother, Mary, is simultaneously fighting the same disease.

With his career in the public eye as one of the world's greatest golfers, Phil Mickelson became an unlikely spokesman for -- as he often puts it -- the "200,000 people who fight or get diagnosed with breast cancer every year." The exposure he brought to the table went way beyond the pink ribbon displayed on his cap.

The year between the 2009 and '10 Masters was filled with big moments.

There was the "Pink Out" at the Colonial tournament when Mickelson's peers displayed their unified support a week after Amy's diagnosis was announced.

There was the magical run in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black when Mickelson showed his mettle in finishing runner-up just days before his wife was to undergo surgery. There was the season-finale victory at East Lake when Mickelson seemed buoyed by the constant support of well-wishers and stood with the trophy to say how proud he was of his wife, mother and everyone else who bravely battles breast cancer.

All of it was prelude to the second Sunday in April when breast cancer survival took center stage at the world's most familiar golf tournament.

Six years earlier on the same 18th green at Augusta National, Mickelson had his career-defining moment when he leaped for joy after draining a birdie putt to win his first major title. That was his moment.

This time, when he rolled in another birdie to claim his third green jacket, the moment meant something bigger -- something beyond any individual achievement. This victory was as much his family's as his own.

"As a family we've been through a lot," Mickelson said. "And the Masters kind of made the year for me. It meant a lot to us emotionally. It meant a lot to me personally. And I look back at the year, and it really comes down to that one event. ... For me the year was kind of salvaged by that Masters win. That's how much that tournament means to me."

Amy Mickelson retreated into her private struggle since that Sunday afternoon appearance, not resurfacing publicly until this week's Ryder Cup festivities. But that one glimpse inspired emotion and hope that bigger triumphs lie ahead.

"Things have been going much better," Mickelson said last week of his wife's ongoing recovery. "I mean, we're in a much better place, and I'm excited about that."


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