Loving Phil-ing

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2009 U.S. OpenFARMINGDALE, N.Y. ' Judging by the size of the galleries on Wednesday ' four, five deep in many spots on the back nine at Bethpage Black ' and the boisterous chants of Get em Lefty and Go Philly, youd think it was already Saturday at the U.S. Open and Phil Mickelson was making a charge up the leaderboard. Instead, it was a Wednesday practice round, and the pairing was Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and Darron Stiles, not Mickelson-Tiger Woods, the one so many people are hoping to see this weekend.
 
Mickelson, the object of New York fans affection in 2002, was back at Bethpage Black on Wednesday, and so were the throngs of Phil backers who adopted him as their own at Bethpage in 02, Shinnecock in 04, Baltusrol in05 and Winged Foot in 06. Only this time, the home crowd was decked out in pink. Not just women, but men, too.
 
Phil Mickelson
Media and officials follow Phil Mickelson's group Wednesday at Bethpage. (Getty Images)
They were there to cheer Phil and his wife Amy, who is thousands of miles away in San Diego awaiting treatment for breast cancer. Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with the disease a month ago, and since then, the support for the Mickelsons, from Tour players and their wives to fans to cancer survivors, has been incredible. And if Wednesday is any indication, pink will be the predominant color in the galleries this week, just as it was at the Colonial several weeks ago.
 
Among the thousands of spectators hanging along the ropes on Wednesday hoping to get a glimpse of Mickelson was Janine Augustine, a four-year breast cancer survivor. Augustine, wearing a pink top, pink hat and button that read, I Kicked Cancers Ass, wanted to deliver a message to the Mickelsons and assure them that Amy would beat the disease. Her message came in the form of a button she hoped to give Phil. The button bluntly says, Cancer Can Kiss My Ass.
 
Its great, said Augustine of all the pink in the crowds on Wednesday. It brings more attention to the cause. Theyve done so much for breast cancer in the last few years, and were so close to a cure. I believe were going to find one, and that would be my message to Amy. Whatever they throw at her, shes going to be fine.
 
Augustine, who will turn 48 on Thursday, has been a fan of Mickelsons long before she or Amy were diagnosed with breast cancer. She cheered him on in two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock (1995, 2004), at the Black Course in 2002 and will do so again this week.
 
Hes just a regular guy, said Augustine. Hes a nice guy. Hell smile at you and when you ask for his autograph, he says, Ill sign later, and you can tell he really means it.
 
Augustine has one other theory why hes so popular with the New York galleries. In 2002, they sang Happy Birthday to Mickelson as if they were singing the words to a Bruce Springsteen song in concert.
 
Im from [Northport] Long Island. Phil, hes like the Mets, she says. Hes the underdog. Anybody can cheer for the Yankees. Phil, hes the proverbial underdog. Hes our guy.
 
As Mickelson and hundreds of spectators funneled down the hill toward the 15th tee box, a fan yelled, Best wishes for Amy. Mickelson acknowledged him with a thumbs up, a smile, and a thank you. It was a scene that played itself out hole after hole on Wednesday, and figures to do so for as long as Mickelson plays this week.
 
He makes eye contact with everyone and interacts with the crowds, thats something that people appreciate, said Matt Jordan of Wanaque, N.J. A lot of people are affected by cancer and that gives them a personal link with him as well. I happen to like him because he plays just like normal golfers do. He tries and hits ridiculous shots like we do.
 
Mickelson struggled on the closing hole, the par-4 18th, hitting his tee shot well right into a fairway bunker and then dropped his approach shot in a deep, greenside bunker. As Phil made his way down into the bunker, a fan screamed, Phil, even though youre on the beach, we still love you. Mickelson responded with a nod and a smile.
 
I just love Phil, said Lisa Ryan of Endicott, N.Y. Hes a very personable guy.
 
Ryans not kidding, either. She wore a white t-shirt that read, I Love Phil, the word Love replaced by a heart sign. She made the shirt herself before making the trip here with her family on Saturday.
 
'Phil looks like hes enjoying himself out there, said Ryan. Hes more friendly than that other guy.
 
Says Jordan of Mickelsons chief rival: Tiger might look stone cold and corporate, but everyone prepares differently. People like to root for the underdog, and even though he [Mickelson] is the No. 2 player in the world, you see him as the underdog because Tigers so good. The whole field is the underdog to Tiger.
 
But even the pro-Tiger fans admit they wont be too disappointed if Mickelson captures his first U.S. Open championship later this week.
 
Im more of a Tiger fan, but Im rooting for Phil this time because of whats going on off the course with Amy, said Kevin Kennedy of Islip, N.Y. I might even wear pink.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage ' 2009 U.S. Open
  • Leaderboard ' U.S. Open
  • Man vs. Bethpage