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Two-time heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton inspires at Pinehurst with T2 finish at U.S. Open

Erik Compton
Al Tielemans / SI
Erik Compton shot a 2-over 72 on Sunday.

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Erik Compton was chatting at the podium when Rickie Fowler leaned in to take a selfie with his buddy in the background.

Shows just how far Compton has come in the past week.

Now, he's the one being treated like a star.

"I never gotten this far along in my story," Compton said Sunday night, choking back tears not long after soaking up the last of the raucous cheers that followed him all the way around Pinehurst No. 2. "It's a career-opening thing for me. For me to put myself on the map and prove to the world that I'm not just the guy with two heart transplants."

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Before he hit a shot in the U.S. Open, Compton already had traveled a remarkable journey. He underwent his first transplant at age 12. He had another when he was 28, after driving himself to the hospital while suffering a near-fatal heart attack.

Six years removed from that traumatic experience, Compton turned in the greatest performance of what had been a largely nondescript career. He tied with Fowler for the runner-up spot behind runaway winner Martin Kaymer.

"My mom summed it pretty well the other night," Compton recalled. "She said, 'Erik's a golfer with two transplants, not a transplant recipient who plays golf.'"

After getting through sectional qualifying just to make it to the Open - and a two-hole playoff, at that - Compton was one of only three players to finish under par at the Open. He closed with a 72 for a 1-under 279, leaving him eight shots behind Kaymer.

For Compton, the margin wasn't really important.

Sure, he wanted to give Kaymer more of a challenge. In fact, he did get as close as four strokes around the turn.

But back-to-back bogeys at the 11th and 12th holes effectively ended his chances of winning the tournament. No problem. Runner-up felt just as good to someone who's been through so much.

"I go from where I was a few years ago, and now I'm able to play in major championships," Compton said as the sun set on the sandhills of North Carolina. "I showed the world today that I'm capable of playing good golf under extreme pressure and heat.

"And," he added, "I think I showed myself."

At No. 18, with the winner decided but runner-up still up for grabs, Compton pushed his tee shot into the waste area right of the fairway. That was followed by awful iron shot, the ball winding up against the lip of a bunker, still about 150 feet from the flag. Then, he pulled off one of his best shots of the whole week, the ball settling about 8 feet from the cup.

Compton pumped his fist before walking up to the green, where he was greeted by cheers that were just as loud as they would be a few minutes later for Kaymer in the final group, closing out his wire-to-wire victory. The fans were on their feet again when Compton rolled in a par-saving putt that had all the feel of a guy winning the tournament, even though it merely ensured he would remain tied with Fowler.

Compton hugged his caddie and soaked up the standing ovation.

"It's very exciting to play golf around people that are supporting you," Compton said. "I've never had that feeling where so many people were cheering my name. It was just a really great week for me."

Compton ensured himself a spot in the 2015 Masters and a return to next year's U.S. Open without having to qualify. He should move into the top 75 of the world ranking for the first time, his career finally looking up after so much hardship.

There was one problem: the USGA had a single runner-up medal for the awards ceremony. Compton put it on first, then gave Fowler a turn.

"We're going to fish-off for the medal," Compton joked.

After getting into Fowler's selfie, Compton talked about playing golf with his friend after the second transplant, how much that whole experience meant to him.

"When I drove up and saw him, he was like a celebrity in my eyes because of what he's accomplished," Compton said.

"Now," he went on, breaking into a devilish grin, "he's looking at me like that."

"Hey," Fowler interjected, as everyone howled. "I did finish TIED for second."

Indeed he did, but this was Compton's moment to shine.

His life never felt so full of promise.

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