SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – A strange year in golf tilted in another unexpected direction Tuesday at the PGA Championship.
But at least Phil Mickelson was able to make us laugh about it.
Though there was nothing funny about his revealing that he is suffering from psoriatic arthritis, the fact that he could make fun of his other major revelation gives his legion of fans reassurance that he’s going to prevail after yet another health scare for the Mickelson family.
After explaining that a wonder drug called Enbrel has apparently put his psoriatic arthritis “in remission” over the last two weeks or so, he revealed that he’s become a vegetarian.
The opening he left for wisecracks was wider than the fairways here at Whistling Straits, and Mickelson lunged in eagerly.
This, after all, is a man who has ownership interest in a burger chain called Five Guys.
“We’re working on a veggie burger,” Mickelson cracked.
Nobody was shocked seeing those photos of Mickelson in his green jacket in the drive-through window of a Krispy Kreme donut shop the day after he won the Masters in April, but there are plenty of PGA Tour pros who would drop their salad plates seeing Mickelson load up on phytochemical packed tomatoes, mineral-rich mushrooms and crunchy jicama.
“I know, this is crazy,” Mickelson said. “I know, I know.”
Crazier yet is the story behind his erratic play this summer.
Mickelson was the big story going to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as he vied to win back-to-back majors. His Masters victory was an uplifting tale with his wife, Amy, there to hug him in her first public appearance since her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.
Going to Pebble Beach, Mickelson confided to Amy how strong he was feeling: “I said, `I’ve never felt this good. I have no aches and pains. My back feels great. I feel stronger and more flexible than I’ve ever been.’ Four days later . . . it’s crazy.”
Five days before the U.S. Open, Mickelson said he felt the first strike of pain from the onset of psoriatic arthritis. It’s a disease that causes inflammation of the joints. He said the pain was so bad he couldn’t walk upon waking up. His hip muscles were sore, his right wrist felt sprained, his left index finger too.
“Usually, that stuff kind of comes and goes,” Mickelson said. “It progressively got worse.”
Mickelson gave himself a chance to win the U.S. Open, tying for fourth. He wasn’t as good at the British Open, tying for 48th. But on a trip to Hawaii after that major, his condition worsened.
“Every joint in my body started to hurt,” Mickelson said.
That led Mickelson to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, who confirmed the psoriatic arthritis diagnosis and prescribed treatment that’s taken his pain away. After his practice round Tuesday, he said he was due to give himself another shot of Enbrel. He gives himself the shot once a week. This marks his third week using the drug.
“This has put it in remission,” Mickelson said. “I feel great. I’m able to work out, lift and don’t have any pain.”
Mickelson said he became a vegeterian in hopes it would help his condition.
Though Mickelson wouldn’t blame his erratic summer play on his illness, his swing coach knows better.
“It’s been a very big deal,” Butch Harmon said. “It definitely affected his focus, and he was in a lot of pain in different parts of his body, but it was not knowing what was causing the pain that was troublesome, not knowing how serious it was, or if it was going to get more serious.
“He’s found some medication that’s helped him a lot. I’ve seen a huge lift in his spirits.”
Sean Cochran, Mickelson’s trainer, said Mickelson is already regaining lost strength.
“I looked at it like a 14-day disabled list,” said Cochran, who once worked with the San Diego Padres.
Mickelson said he didn't want to divulge the news until he knew exactly what he was dealing with. He is hopeful the disease is under control.
“It’s very treatable,” he said. “I’ll probably take this drug for about a year and feel 100 percent.
“It’s not that it’s cured, but it may never come back. If it does come back, I’ll start the treatment again and should be able to live a normal life without having any adverse effects. I’m not very concerned about it.”
Mickelson’s recovery comes in time to make this a giant season. He tied for sixth when the PGA Championship was played at Whistling Straits in 2004. A victory this week would vault him to No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time and likely lock up his first PGA Tour Player of the Year award.
“It would make the year remarkable,” Mickelson said. “It would make it a super year.”
Though Mickelson won the Masters, he has disappointed in failed bids to wrest the No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods. He has just the one victory this season.
“To have won the Masters made this year great,” Mickelson said. “I haven’t really played like I feel I can. I haven’t won as much as I would like, but winning one major, winning the Masters has made this a year I’ll always remember. If I were somehow able to come out on top at the end of this week, it would be an incredible year.”