DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — If not for a 28-year-old named Isaac, Erik Compton would not be alive.
So when Compton had the opportunity to play on a sponsor exemption this week at the Memorial Tournament in suburban Columbus – where Isaac lived before he was killed in a hit-and-run accident – it seemed like a fitting tribute.
Compton’s heart, the third that has beat in his chest, is Isaac’s.
“I wrote (Isaac’s family) a letter and said that I’d be honoring him and making this a memorable week because it is ironic that I do have a heart from somebody who is from this town,” Compton said Wednesday. “This week I want to perform as best as I can and keep that the focus.”
The 29-year-old Compton has survived two transplants since he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart when he was a child. He received his first transplant when he was 12; it belonged to a 15-year-old girl named Jannine.
After a glittering college career at Georgia, he turned pro. He played on a sponsor exemption at the 2002 Memorial and missed the cut, moving on to the mini-tours to hone his game.
Then in October 2007 he felt another heart attack coming on. His transplanted heart had lasted 16 years.
Enter Isaac, killed while riding his motorcycle. One life ended, another was extended.
Compton was in a hospital room a year ago during the Memorial, recovering from his second transplant surgery.
He failed to get his PGA Tour card by one stroke last fall he’s played in three events this year, all on sponsor’s exemptions. Compton’s wife, Barbara, gave birth to daughter Petra on Feb. 22. Just a few weeks later, he made the cut at The Honda.
His life is full, and full of promise.
“Right now I’m pretty much healed,” he said. “Six more months and I’ll be stronger than I am now.”
He hopes to play well in the Memorial, which starts Thursday. Then he plans to meet with Isaac’s family.
“We’ve had some contact and they’re well aware of who I am and I’m aware of who they are,” Compton said. “It’s a very, very strong family. They’re a very spiritual family. And they’re very understanding of what I’m trying to do – trying to live life the way their son would have wanted.”
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: There’s something about a traditional, tree-lined Midwestern course that Zach Johnson likes.
“This is what I grew up on,” he said Wednesday, a day before the opening round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. “I love the tree lines. I love the bentgrass. I love the fast greens, the substantial rough. I just like how you have to plot your way around it.”
Yet the problem for the Iowa native is that he has never won on such a course. His five wins on tour are the BellSouth (Georgia), Masters (Georgia), AT&T (Georgia), Valero (Texas) and Sony Open (Hawaii).
“I haven’t had a whole lot of stellar finishes in the north,” Johnson said. “I finished second here once (two shots back of winner Carl Pettersson in 2006). I don’t know if I’ve had any other top 10s up north.”
HONOREES: Each year the Memorial Tournament honors players and contributors who have helped make the game what it is. This year’s honorees are JoAnne Carner, who won 43 times on the LPGA Tour, and Jackie Burke Jr., winner of 17 PGA Tour titles including two majors.
Carner was known as a free spirit who would banter with pro-am partners, fellow competitors and galleries. During honoree ceremonies on Tuesday near the 18th green, she said one of her nicknames was “Shank.”
She related how, after she repeatedly had trouble with wedge shots near an elevated green, a playing partner asked if she might just try some other club.
“Why? I’m just now getting the hang of this one,” she cracked.
Plaques bearing the honorees’ likenesses are mounted in a small area near the first tee at Muirfield Village.
QUOTABLE: Rocco Mediate, on whether the Memorial Tournament serves as preparation for the U.S. Open: “I would never say I’m using it more to prepare for the U.S. Open. I’m using the Memorial to try to win the Memorial.”
CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Course designer Jack Nicklaus admits to tinkering with his layout at Muirfield Village. Every year, it seems, he makes changes. Some years the changes are more dramatic than others.
He made only two minor tweaks to the course since the 2008 Memorial. On both the 11th and 18th holes, he slightly raised the front of each green to allow for additional pin placements and to prevent approach shots from spinning all the way down the hills leading up to both.
“We didn’t really do anything significant from last year,” Nicklaus said.
Oh, he also OK’d about four miles of drainage pipe being put into the fairways. After heavy rainfall throughout Wednesday’s Skins Game at the course, those pipes got their first workout during competition.
RAIN GAUGE: A cold front hit the course just early Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by heavy rain. The forecast calls for a slight chance of rain for Thursday’s opening round, sunny conditions on Friday and Saturday and a chance of a shower on Sunday. Temperatures will rise into the 70s throughout the tournament.
DIVOTS: Defending champion Kenny Perry has made 15 consecutive cuts at Muirfield Village, dating to 1992 – the year after winning his first of three Memorials. … That same 1992 Memorial was also the last time the tournament had a playoff. The 16-year stretch without a playoff is the longest on the PGA Tour. … Trevor Immelman withdrew due to tendinitis in his left wrist and was replaced by Jesper Parnevik. Cliff Kresge took Dean Wilson’s place. … Six players have won the Memorial more than once, and it’s an impressive list: Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry (three times each), Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman and Tom Watson (twice apiece).