A golfer with a third heart and plenty of grit
NORTON, Mass. — More than any other PGA Tour player, Erik Compton can do without the additional stress.
But there he was again last Friday, two shots over the cut line with two holes to play at The Barclays, needing to make the cut to at least have an outside chance of moving on to the next tournament in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He already had played 31 holes that day because of a rain delays, and his tank was empty.
But his heart? No one questions that.
This is the scrappy Florida kid who took up golf after a heart transplant when he was 12. The same guy who suffered a heart attack in 2007 and, with his heart pumping at 15 percent capacity and his foot on the accelerator, drove himself to the hospital while calling everyone to tell them he loved them because he thought it was over. He had his second heart transplant six months later.
He went birdie-birdie at The Barclays to make the cut.
“Some guys focus like every hole is the last hole. And I need to play like that every week,” Compton said. “Your energy level plays a major factor in how you think. Sucking it up, basically that’s what I’ve been doing my life – figuring out how to play golf when you’re not at your best.”
Two days later, Compton was 3 under for the final round and projected to be inside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup to advance to the Deutsche Bank Championship. He made bogey. Then another one. And then he chipped into the water on the 16th and faced a 10-foot putt for bogey.
More stress he didn’t need. More clutch golf he always seems to deliver. He made the bogey putt, made a birdie putt on the next hole from the same distance and then saved par on the final hole with a 5-foot putt that allowed him to head north to the TPC Boston this week.
“Everyone says I’m going to give them a heart attack,” Compton said, smiling at his metaphor. “But I’ve already had a couple of those.”
Compton is on his third heart and has an endless supply of perspective. After going through a second transplant, and showing off a scar that runs the length of his chest, he once said, “I’ve been dead twice.”
The next day, the 33-year-old Compton was on “CBS This Morning” with Jeff Glor, talking about his amazing life and his work with Donate Life America and Genentech to raise awareness of organ donation and transplants.
“I guess my story’s like a movie,” Compton said. “It’s not a made-up story, but it’s real. It just doesn’t faze me anymore. We all have issues, right?”
“Yeah, but this is a pretty big one – with all due respect,” Glor said as the audience laughed.
“Yeah, but I trade some of the bad issues and bad things that have happened,” Compton replied. “I have a lot of great things.”
He has a wife and a daughter. He has a job on the PGA Tour, right alongside Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. And that might be the most amazing thing of all in his remarkable life. Through it all, Compton earned his way to the highest level of golf.
And this year, for the first time, he stayed there.
He first reached the big leagues in 2012 through the Nationwide Tour money list. He lost his card and went back to Q-school, surviving six rounds to get back to the PGA Tour. Going into the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday, his ranking is three spots behind Ernie Els, two spots ahead of Justin Leonard. He belongs.
Trouble is, that’s not how Compton views his job.
The public tends to look at him as a sympathetic figure, a walking miracle with two heart transplants and a PGA Tour card.
Compton sees himself as a golfer who would be more inclined to celebrate a victory than merely keeping his card. It was like that at the Honda Classic this year when he tied for fourth for his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour. Everyone wanted to pat him on the head. He was kicking himself in the rear for a bogey on the last hole.
“It seems like a bit of tug-of-war going on inside there,” said Scott Piercy, who played with Compton last weekend. “He knows he’s living a dream. I think a little in his mind it’s like, ‘OK, I’m lucky to be here.’ But I know a competitor lurks in there, too. Because at the end of the day, there’s a lot of fight in that kid, for sure. He wants to win.”
Compton understands that. He says he’ll be at home, sitting alone on the couch, and his wife will ask him what’s going through his mind. His answer more times than not: How to get better. How to win.
“I want to be a top 50 player in the world,” Compton said. “I have to keep getting better. I’m bound to have a win and have a good season. It’s not impossible. I have a good swing. The guys out here are really, really good. But I’m really good, too. I’m not just a dead guy walking.”
He does not take his position lightly. Compton has given countless hours to “Donate Life America” to get out the message that kids are waiting every day for an organ to survive. He already was planning to be in the Boston area this week to speak about it. And now he gets to play golf, and even greater platform.
It will take another big week for him to advance to the third playoff event in Chicago. But at least it’s a chance.
“I want to see how far I can go,” Compton said. “I see a win in my future – next week, next year.”
And then he grinned.
“There’s only 99 guys I have to beat, right?”