AUGUSTA, Ga. - Phil Mickelson called his wife from just off the 13th fairway, in the woods, while standing on a bed of pine needles and 205 yards from the hole. And he used a beautiful swing of a 6-iron, instead of a phone.
The message was short, sweet and simple: Meet me at the 18th hole in about 30 minutes, darling, and let’s shed a tear together.
Amy Mickelson planned to spend the entire Sunday afternoon at their rented house a few miles away, watching the Masters with her three children, recuperating from her ongoing battle with breast cancer. But that swing ... the ball sliced through a pair of oak trees standing a few feet apart. He knocked it four feet from the cup. She knew. It was time. The third green jacket was in the bag, and she gathered the kids and the keys for the short ride to the course.
“When he hit that shot,” Amy said, “we were heading to the car. I actually started crying at the house on 12. That’s when I saw him take control.”
She hadn’t appeared at a golf tournament with her husband since last May, when she was diagnosed. Her surgeries and treatment since have been rough on everyone involved, especially Phil, who took time off from golf. And when he resumed this year, he was distracted and played poorly. That changed at the Masters. That changed when Amy decided to travel for this tournament, realizing how much it meant to Phil.
“I wasn’t sure if she’d be there standing on 18,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson made birdie on the par-5 13th after that amazing shot and distanced himself from the field. He won the tournament by three strokes. Then the real drama began. Their embrace at the 18th, a 15-second squeeze, was a long time coming.
Phil: “Not much was said.”
Or needed to be said.
Everyone needed a hanky, even Butch Harmon, Mickelson's cantankerous swing coach, boo-hooing at the moment. The scene of Phil hugging his wife, given the circumstances, was a grapefruit-in-the-throat moment for all involved.
“We’ve been through a lot,” said Mickelson, choking his words. “and it meant a lot to share some joy together. She’s an incredible wife and mother and has been such a great inspiration to me.”
Amy never appeared at the course until that final moment. She thought she’d make too much of a scene and be too great a distraction. She thought the best way to support Phil was by staying at home.
“Just to rest,” she said. “I didn’t want Phil to think about me. I wanted him to focus on golf and not worry if I was sick or not feeling well.”
Well, it all worked out well. Mickelson had three rounds of 67 and stayed in contention throughout the tournament. He had better control of his poise and emotion than Tiger Woods, who imploded on the 14th hole when he three-putted from six feet. And, of course, the family contrast between Mickelson and Woods was too extreme to ignore.
Mickelson: A devoted father and husband, caring for his ailing wife and making the necessary sacrifices to put family first.
Tiger: Um, I think you know.
“To have the entire family here was a big deal,” Mickelson said.
Only Tiger (4), Jack Nicklaus (6) and Arnold Palmer (4) own more Masters championships than Phil. Imagine: Until Mickelson won at Augusta in 2004, folks wondered if he’d ever get a major. And if not for a collapse on the final hole at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006, he’d have five majors. Also, Mickelson’s popularity, atmospheric to begin with, will only escalate while Tiger’s begins to wane.
And Phil owes it to that shot on 13. When Mickelson went over strategy with his caddie, Bones Mackay, as he surveyed the landscape and his chances, the plan of attack was very straight-forward, very Phil-like.
“I could see he was going for it,” Amy said. “I like that about him. I know people say, 'It’s a mistake' and 'why did he do that?' when he takes chances. But I don’t. He goes for it. I knew he wasn’t coming out here to finish second.”
No, it was all about being first, if only to encourage Amy to leave the house and watch him play live, for the first time in 11 months. The Mickelsons will have their bad days. Sunday wasn’t one of them.
“I’m a believer in a lot of things right now,” said Amy Mickelson. Then she got choked up and politely excused herself.