What Phil now knows is that he’s had the disease in a mostly dormant state for years. He had what he thought were the normal aches and pains of an athlete who was getting older. And there was something else – something so seemingly insignificant that he’d never given any real attention to. He occasionally had a flaky, itchy scalp.

Both are telltale signs of psoriatic arthritis, a disease that flared for the first time in Phil a week before the U.S. Open last June.

“I was in excruciating pain in the Achilles heel and the back of my legs. That first morning, I couldn’t get up. After two or three hours, I finally got it stretched out to where I could function. But as soon as I was off my feet for an hour or so, it came right back. I hadn’t experienced that kind of pain before.”

Phil played the U.S. Open in that condition.

“The best thing you can say about Phil Mickelson’s first round at the U.S. Open is that no children or animals were harmed in its making,” wrote an ESPN columnist in describing Phil’s day one play.

Phil rebounded and stayed in contention for most of the tournament. But he was hurting and was not at his best. It got worse before getting better.

“Four days after the U.S. Open, we went on a family vacation to Hawaii, and at night, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t move. I had no idea arthritis could be that debilitating. I didn’t know much about it at all.”

Getting Worse

When Phil got back to his California home, he made an appointment with his doctor, who put him on a steroid pack. Most of the pain subsided. But as soon as the steroid regimen was done, the pain returned.

“He felt we had a problem then, and diagnosed me with psoriatic arthritis. I went to the Mayo Clinic and got the same diagnosis.”

By this point, the pain that had begun in his heels had progressed to the hips, knees and shoulders.

“Swinging a golf club was not an option at that point,” he says. “I couldn’t even take it back halfway. That was pretty worrisome.”

Dr. Matteson says that worry – both pre- and post-diagnosis – is common. And not unmerited.

“Psoriatic arthritis is not as benign of a disease as was once thought,” he says. “It’s not milder than rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. If you start treatment early, you can reduce a lot of the [joint] damage and keep people functional most of the time. But when your livelihood depends on your physical abilities, it is very concerning.”