AUGUSTA, Ga. Phil Mickelson owns trophies from tour events and major championships, but among his most prized possessions is a bank of photographs in his home. The photos are of his children wearing tiny white jumpsuits and carrying miniature golf bags, ambling over the greens of the Masters par-3 contest.
"I love looking back at how little they were," Mickelson said Tuesday during his press conference. "I just can't believe how much they have grown, and I use it as a kind of time line, seeing them in their cute little jumpers. I hope they are able to make it. I'm hoping they get here for tomorrow's Par 3."
If Mickelson's children come to Augusta National, there is a chance that Mickelson's wife, Amy, will be here, too, bringing to Mickelson the one missing gallery member who used to be a constant in his career. A year ago, as Mickelson and Tiger Woods dueled in a taut Sunday back-and-forth that electrified Augusta National, Amy was hoofing it through the pine needles and walkways, greeting fans and writers alike, all the while watching her husband. A month later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I hope that she's able to come," Mickelson said Tuesday. "I know that she's not here yet. She's going to try to get here maybe later in the week."
As Amy has battled breast cancer, Mickelson has mixed in the occasional great round of golf with spells of inconsistent play. He enters his 18th Masters as a golfer less than whole, his focus understandably wavering between his profession and his home life. (Mickelson's mother, Mary, is also battling the disease, having been diagnosed two months after his wife.)
If Woods enters the Masters as the focus of the tournament, Mickelson arrives at a much lower octave.
"I asked Phil at Bay Hill how Amy was and, you know, he gives me the okay," Steve Stricker said. "But who knows what that means? I can't really speculate on what Amy is going through or what Phil is going through, but I would imagine it's very difficult to concentrate on playing well when you have a couple of people that are so close to you back home dealing with cancer."
Mickelson has mostly shied away from sharing details of his wife's battle, but every so often he sheds some light. Last June, before Mickelson's inspired run at the United States Open at Bethpage Black, he revealed that Amy had asked him to bring the trophy to her hospital bedside. He came close, finishing two shots behind the champion, Lucas Glover.
Mickelson said: "We've been through a lot here the last year, and I'm fortunate in the way things are playing out for us, because we are in a better situation than a lot of the people we see at our center where we have been getting treatment. But golf has been a big part of my life, and it's what makes me happy. It's also been a big part of kind of getting through it."
When Mickelson won his first major championship, at the 2004 Masters, it came only months after Amy nearly died while giving birth to the couple's third child, Evan.
When he won his third major, at the 2006 Masters, Amy and the children were part of the victorious scene in the gloaming.
Four years and so many tournaments have come and gone since: the debacle at the 2006 United States Open at Winged Foot, where Mickelson made double bogey on the 72nd hole; a new swing coach in Butch Harmon, who Mickelson says has made him a longer, straighter driver; a new putting guru in Dave Stockton, who had Mickelson putting as well as anyone at the end of 2009.
Who knows which Mickelson will show up this week? His game can fluctuate from shot to shot, let alone tournament to tournament. He will be looking for consistency on a golf course that demands it.
He may also be looking for a smile outside the ropes.