Two heart transplants ... no worry for Erik Compton
Journeyman would rather be known for his playing ability than what he has overcome, but he has never been on a stage as big as the US Open
Jim Litke in Pinehurst, North Carolina
Golfers like to say nothing rivals the pressure of coming down the stretch in contention at a major championship. Erik Compton knows better.
The 34-year-old journeyman fired a three-under 67 to put himself squarely in the mix for the final day at Pinehurst No 2 - tied for second at three under, though still five strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer. And Compton did it without his pulse racing or his heart beating unusually fast. Good thing, too, because he is on his third heart.
You read that right. Compton would rather be known for his golf than what he has overcome, but he has never been on a stage nearly this big. And this is what he had overcome: he needed a heart transplant at 12, then again six years ago, not long after he had a heart attack while driving home from a lesson with long-time coach Charlie DeLucca. Doctors referred to that as a "widow-maker". Convinced he was not going to survive the 20-minute drive to the hospital, Compton called his mother, Eli, to say goodbye.
"He said, 'Mom, I'm not going to make it'. He said goodbye to all of us," Eli recalled, standing not far from the 18th green, where her son had just exited to a thunderous ovation. "I said, 'Stop. Call 911'. "He didn't," she sighed. "Somehow, he made it."
Compton is not shy about sharing his story, but he tries to be as businesslike as possible on the course. That is why he likes to stay far from family and friends on tournament days, especially at a major (even though this was only his second). Being pretty tough herself, Eli Compton looked at the scoreboard before he teed off, saw the wave of high scores posted by the morning group, and told him about it, anyway.
"I just told her to get up and walk away," Compton laughed.
"I love my parents and I love all my friends," he added quickly, "but you just don't want to hear about what's going on, because you need to get ready when you go play. It doesn't matter what anybody else does, it matters what you do. I decided that I was going to hit fairways and greens and try to make the best executions I can. That's all you can ask yourself to do".
For most of his pro career, interrupted as it was by that second heart attack, that hasn't been enough. Compton was the No 1-ranked junior in the United States at 18, a two-time All-American at Georgia, but he has spent way more time battling second-stringers and up-and-comers on the Web.com and Canadian tours than he has against the best out on the PGA Tour.
With full playing privileges on the big tour this year, Compton is having his best season - 19 starts, 13 cuts made and a pair of top-10 finishes going into the final round of the US Open. His sense that his game was coming around, that it might just be up to major championship-calibre, picked up another important endorsement two weeks ago at the Memorial.
"I had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield and he kind of winked at me and said, 'Your game will suit Pinehurst'," Compton said. "So he had a smile on his face and it was kind of neat to ... when I qualified, I let him know that I qualified."
Compton does not downplay the inspirational part of his story, but he does not wear it on his sleeve, either. No matter. It is well-known inside the golfing world, which explains why Chi Chi Rodriguez, another former great, rang him up.
"He told me I was going to go out and shoot 64 and he was ... he told me how tough I was," Compton said. "There's different characters of the game that I feel like I've gained strength from and it's nice to have the greats take an interest in me."
Rickie Fowler, who was tied for second with Compton, called his pal, "a sneaky good player. I look at him definitely as an equal competitor".
"Look at his results", Fowler added, "and you'll see he definitely deserves this".