PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Everyone in this week’s Honda Classic field has the goal of walking down the 18th fairway Sunday with a trophy and $1 million awaiting.
Everyone except Erik Compton.
He’d settle for just the walking.
Compton’s feel-good story returns to the PGA Tour this week, through a sponsor’s exemption into the Honda at PGA National. He’ll be in a tournament as a father for the first time – daughter Petra was born Feb. 22 – and about 10 months removed from his second heart transplant surgery.
The odds say he won’t win. Of course, the odds also say he wouldn’t be a father. Or even still alive, for that matter.
“Three hearts later, I’m a part in creating a new life,” the 29-year-old Compton said Monday, sleep-deprived from adjusting to life with a newborn. “Whatever happens to me, she’s going to eventually know my story and how she was brought into this world with a story. I mean, I never, ever thought I’d be a father. I never even thought I’d make it to college. As far as I’ve made it and to look at her and to know I had a little part in it … it’s really neat.”
His is a story the golf world has latched onto, with good reason.
Compton learned Monday that he’ll play on another exemption at Bay Hill at the end of the month. He was invited to play in Dubai not long ago. Just about everyone he passes in the locker room asks how he’s doing, how he’s feeling.
“A wonderful story,” Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly said. “Obviously, what he has gone through in his lifetime as a young person is unbelievable. We thought it was only appropriate to try to give back to Erik and we hope, frankly, that this is the start of Erik’s new career on the PGA Tour.”
Compton clearly hopes the same. After all, he’s got a wife and daughter to support now.
“I’m not normal,” Compton said. “But it’s time.”
Heart problems found him long before he found golf.
At 9, he was diagnosed with a condition that caused his heart to enlarge and therefore struggle to pump blood. At 12, he got his first transplant. In October 2007, he had a massive heart attack, drove himself to the hospital and was convinced he was going to die right there.
“The greatest shots I ever hit,” Compton said, “were in a hospital.”
Doctors saved him that fall day, but it was clear he needed another transplant.
The new heart – the third chance at life – arrived last May, and about five months later, Compton rallied to make it through the first round of Q-School. After that, he played in the PGA Tour’s season-ending event at Disney.
“There’s a lot of great players, but I’m competing against myself,” Compton said. “I’m trying to do something that nobody in the world has ever done.”
Those who know him say they wouldn’t bet against him.
“I don’t know someone as confident as Erik,” said Charlie DeLucca, his mentor who was with him at PGA National on Monday.
Compton doesn’t have all his strength back, and possibly never will. Once a big hitter who would argue with Camilo Villegas over whom was longer off the tee – their numbers used to be practically identical on the Nationwide Tour – he’s lost maybe as much as 30 to 40 yards off his drives.
And he’s got to conserve his energy, too. He played 36 holes Thursday and 36 more Friday, plus took part in a pro-am at PGA National on Monday. After that, he doesn’t expect to play again until the tournament begins, skipping Tuesday and Wednesday to rest.
Playing is hard for Compton. Not playing is even harder.
“My wife, my friends, my family, they have to tell me to take it easy,” said Compton, who swallows a handful of pills three times a day, including some beta-blockers that are typically prohibited under the PGA Tour’s drug policy.
Compton wants to win tournaments, of course, and bank the kind of money that’ll take care of his family.
But that’s hardly his sole focus, not even close. He prides himself on being a living, breathing example of the sort of life transplant recipients can have. He’s an advocate, is working with a foundation, will even have a “play with a pro” event next week with retired basketball star Alonzo Mourning, who underwent a kidney transplant in 2003.
So this week, it’s not about winning. It’s about walking.
The PGA Tour is allowing him to use a cart this week if he deems it necessary. He desperately doesn’t want that to happen.
“For me to be able to walk four days is part of a separate goal,” Compton said. “For me, being able to walk four days and play coming down Sunday is a huge accomplishment … but I might not perform as well if I was in a cart.”
This week, to him, that simply doesn’t matter.
“It’s been a goal of mine to get back and play and walk,” Compton said. “It’s going to be a good week. With the birth of our daughter, it’s been a pretty tiring week, but hopefully somewhere in the mix I can play a little golf.”