Phil Mickelson was gearing up for his favorite time of year, working his way toward Bethpage Black and another crack at the U.S. Open before a New York gallery that treats him like a rock star.
All that changed Wednesday, along with his priorities, when he disclosed that his wife, Amy, has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mickelson is taking an indefinite leave from the PGA Tour. He withdrew from the Byron Nelson Championship, which he won in 1996. He is to defend his title next week at Colonial, but even that is uncertain. A statement from his management company said his 37-year-old wife would have more tests, though treatment would begin with "major surgery" as early as the next two weeks.
"We see Amy as this vibrant, bubbly mother of three who is tremendously devoted to her husband and family," Jack Nicklaus said. "No one, especially Amy, deserves to have to face the battle that accompanies cancer. But we know that Amy has this amazing inner strength and spirit, and with Phil's unwavering love and support, they will fight and overcome this."
Mickelson, a three-time major champion with 36 career PGA Tour victories, was closing in on the No. 1 ranking held by Tiger Woods. He was runner-up to Woods at Bethpage Black in 2002.
"Elin and I are deeply saddened to hear the news about Amy," Woods said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her, Phil, the children and the entire Mickelson family."
Scott Verplank said Mickelson sent him a text message Tuesday night "and I had a hard time sleeping."
"Every time I've been around her, she's always had a smile on her face. She's always upbeat," Verplank said. "She's a neat girl. Hopefully, it's early and hopefully, they take care of it."
Amy Mickelson is one of the most visible wives on the PGA Tour, a former Phoenix Suns cheerleader who regularly walks the course during rounds and mingles easily with fans who recognize her blonde hair and engaging smile.
They met in 1992, when Mickelson was a senior at Arizona State, a year after he won his first PGA Tour event as an amateur. Amy knew nothing about golf at the time.
"I grew up in a tennis family, and when he told me he was a pro golfer, I thought he worked in the shop at a golf course," she wrote in Mickelson's book, "One Magical Sunday," after he won his first major at the 2004 Masters.
The first time she accompanied him to a golf tournament, the Bob Hope Classic, she figured they would walk hand-in-hand down the fairway and was angry at him for not spending enough time with her. But once she learned the difference between birdies and bogeys, she has been at his side during the highs and lows of golf tournaments.
They were married in 1996 and have three children: Amanda, 9, Sophia, 7, and Evan, 6. Their first child was born the day after the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2., where Mickelson carried a pager and promised to leave if his wife went into labor.
Contractions began on Sunday, but she decided not to page him because he was so close to winning his first major. Mickelson lost by one stroke when Payne Stewart holed a 15-foot par putt on the final hole. Mickelson arrived home in time for the birth.
He nearly lost his wife during the delivery of their third child.
Sarah Strange, a breast cancer survivor and wife of former Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange, said Amy Mickelson's outgoing personality would play a big part in her recovery.
"She's such an upbeat person, and I think she'll approach this in the same way, moving forward with confidence," Sarah Strange said. "I'm sure she's getting the best treatment they can find. An upbeat attitude plays such a key role in this, her own and those around her. I'll certainly be extending any experiences I've had, any questions she could ask me to keep upbeat.
"She was so supportive of me being a captain's wife," she said. "In return, she will feel that support from others."
Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, spent time with the Mickelsons during his four stints as captain of the Presidents Cup team.
"She was the wife I went to for advice," Barbara Nicklaus said. "Amy is just one of those people who simply wants to help other people. Now we need to help her."
How much golf Mickelson misses this summer is uncertain, but it comes at a time when Woods, his chief rival, returned from eight months away with knee surgery. They played together in the final round of the Masters and practically stole the show with an exciting charge up the leaderboard. Mickelson finished one shot ahead of Woods, but three shots out of the playoff won by Angel Cabrera.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.