By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
KOHLER, Wis. -- The irony of it all was that Phil Mickelson, who was days away from his 40th birthday, had just been telling his wife Amy that he had never felt so good.
"I have no aches and pains," Mickelson recalls saying. "My back feels great. I feel stronger and more flexible than I've ever been."
Several days later as his preparations for the U.S. Open intensified, though, Mickelson started waking up in a world of pain. His Achilles throbbed. His left index finger felt like it was sprained, and so did his right wrist.
Ibuprofen and anti-inflammatories helped ease the pain as Mickelson tied for fourth at Pebble Beach. But when the aches spread to his hips, ankles, shoulders and elbows during a vacation in Hawaii, pain so severe that he couldn't walk, Mickelson really became concerned.
The diagnosis was psoriatic arthritis, a condition in which your immune system begins to attack healthy cells and tissue, causing inflammation in the joints and tendons. Mickelson managed the condition with more anti-inflammatories during the British Open but is now treating it by giving himself a shot of Embrel every seven days.
"It lowers my immune system and stops it from attacking the joints," Mickelson said Tuesday at Whistling Straits. "I've only been doing it two weeks now ... and I seem to have some pretty immediate progress so it's been great."
Mickelson says the drug has put the disease in remission. He expects to continue the shots for a year or so, and then he'll see how he feels. It could be that the condition never returns, but if it does, he can start the treatment again.
"(I) should be able to live a normal life without having any adverse effects," the reigning Masters champion said. "So I'm not very concerned about it."
Now that he knows the long-term prognosis is good, Mickelson finally feels comfortable discussing the diagnosis. So he opened his press conference prior to the PGA Championship on Tuesday by telling reporters about the disease and the uncertainty that attended the last eight weeks.
"First of all, I don't want excuses," Mickelson said. "And second, I don't want to discuss something when I don't know what the outcome is going to be. For five or six weeks, I was a little unsure of how this was going to affect me long-term, career, what-have-you.
"Now that I feel confident it's not going to affect not only the rest of my career or rest of my life, but even in the short-term it shouldn't have an effect. I feel a lot better about it and I'm a lot more at ease to discuss it."
He didn't bring it up at the British Open, although he now acknowledges that he had to play with his left finger off the grip -- "but it's irrelevant," Mickelson was quick to point out. "I just let it hang from from the club and didn't notice an issue." There was some pain in his right wrist, but he doesn't think it affected his swing.
Mickelson didn't blame that 78 on Sunday in Akron on the arthritic condition, either. He had started the weekend one shot off the lead and was tied for 10th when the final round began. He needed only to move up into fourth to dethrone Tiger Woods as world No. 1 but went on to tie for 46th.
And Mickelson certainly has kept his humor about him. For the last eight weeks, after reading a book and thinking it might make him feel better, one of the PGA TOUR's ultimate carnivores has become a vegetarian. He's been eating fruits, vegetables and pastas, and Mickelson plans to continue the diet as long as he thinks it helps.
"But I haven't been put to the real test," he said with a smile. "The real test is driving by a Five Guys and not stopping. I don't know if I can do that yet, but we'll see."
Mickelson, whose wife Amy has been battling breast cancer for the last 14 months, says he feels 90 percent right now but acknowledged he was a "little nervous" on the eve of the PGA, which he won in 2005. He's been able to start working out again and was able to put in longer sessions on the range in the last week.
There's one major left and the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup on the horizon, along with his eighth Ryder Cup. Once again, Mickelson has five mathematical ways to overtake Woods as the No. 1 player in the world -- which would be a first for the big lefthander.
But Mickelson, who played in 47 majors before he finally won his first, knows better than most not to ahead of himself. He'll be working with Butch Harmon this week trying to forget Firestone and regain the form he had when he made this year's Masters his fourth major title.
"I've got to play, I've got to get my game sharp here, and after the weekend that I had last week, I'm a little nervous going into this week," Mickelson said. "Because I felt pretty good, I felt like things were coming around, and so this has put me back on edge and I've got some work to do."