Double-heart transplant recipient Erik Compton enjoys first start as full-time PGA Tour member
HONOLULU (AP) – Justin Leonard finished hitting wedges on the range Sunday morning and had moved on to irons as he worked his way through the bag before the final round of the Sony Open. Erik Compton arrived and took the spot next to him.
About 10 minutes later, Leonard was surprised to hear the sound of a shot from over his shoulder. He turned to see Compton bending to tee up another ball.
“You're hitting driver already?'' Leonard said.
Compton smiled and joked back, “I used to come out and just hit four drivers on the Nationwide Tour.''
One couldn't help but wonder if that was yet another physical restriction for Compton, who already has had two heart transplants. Turns out it was the design of this range, which has a prevailing left-to-right wind that might lead to bad habits for the shape of his shot.
Compton, though, is used to every query involving his heart.
From the time he played in the 2001 Walker Cup, if not before, his story is well known, and no less amazing.
Because of viral cardiomyopathy as a kid, he had his first heart transplant when he was 12. He suffered a heart attack on Oct. 3, 2007, and drove himself to the hospital with his heart running at 15 percent capacity. His second heart transplant was seven months later, and five months later made the cut on the PGA Tour while playing on a sponsor's exemption.
The highlight for Compton, at least on the golf course, came last summer when he won the Mexico Open on the Nationwide Tour, which coupled with good results earlier, assured him of finishing in the top 25 on the money list and graduating to the big leagues.
The Sony Open was his 31st start on the PGA Tour, his 20th since getting a third heart, his first as a full-fledged member. As if anyone could doubt a fighting spirit, he was headed toward a missed cut until finishing birdie-eagle to make the cut on the number.
With another cut in effect Saturday, Compton made a 10-foot birdie on the last hole that pushed him through to Sunday. It was worth another round, a small example of how the 32-year-old from Miami just keeps going.
There have been suggestions of a book, perhaps even a movie, of his life.
Hollywood would have no trouble finding the storybook ending. Going through a heart transplant to be a college success and play in the Walker Cup. Surviving a second heart transplant. Returning to play golf. Winning on the Nationwide Tour. Reaching the PGA Tour.
Where does it end?
“I don't think my story is quite done yet,'' Compton said. “I think sometimes Hollywood wants an ending, and something that's going to see is never good enough. You have to win a PGA event, and then you have to win a major, and then you have to win a Grand Slam, and then you've got to be the president of the United States.
“It's just a tough story to write, because it's still in the process,'' Compton said.
The hype over books and movies has subsided recently, which is OK with Compton. For all the trauma he has endured, despite a road to the PGA Tour unmatched by anyone in history, what appeals to him is the feel of a crisp shot, the satisfaction of making a big putt, a number on the card, a spot on the leaderboard.
“I just really want to be able to compete and be able to make a difference,'' he said.
One of these days, Compton will get the same questions as most everyone else on the PGA Tour – details of the round, key shots, being in contention, coping with nerves going into the weekend with a chance.
He's different, though, because while he wants to be a golfer and achieve as much as he can, he has a story to tell about transplants. If nothing else, Compton can inspire hope.
He has a partnership with Genetec, which uses human genetic information to develop medicine to treat serious or life-threatening conditions. Compton describes it as a “perfect fit.''
“We're trying to promote more organ donor awareness and trying to get more people to donate organs because there's a shortage,'' he said. “By me playing and being able to share my story, I think people will realize that it really is a real thing and it affects normal people every day. So I think that's kind of the two sides of me – the player and the transplant side to it.
“I've done a good job of being able to balance that when I get on the golf course,'' he said. “I just feel like a regular person, and being able to play successful and good golf for me is just being healthy.''
But he is finding some normalcy in the clubhouse, on the putting green, at lunch, on the golf course.
“When I go in the locker room, they just look at me like I'm a regular player,'' he said. “None of the players ever ask me, and I kind of respect that, because they understand that I'm getting that on the other end. But I kind of blend in. I'm not like a superstar that people think. I'm just a regular guy, and I look like a regular guy.''
Compton can't think of an interview when someone didn't mention his heart, “unless it was a reporter that didn't have the background or didn't have a clue.'' That's OK. He expects to get that as long as he's playing golf, and he doesn't mind talking about it.
Part of him looks forward to the day when he gets the same questions that Jeff Maggert received on Saturday after tying for the lead, or Brendon de Jonge on Friday after he switched back to his old putter and shot 62.
Or maybe not.
“When I see some interviews, they can be boring to me,'' he said. “I mean, how much can you talk about golf?''