HONOLULU (AP)—Justin Leonard finished hitting wedges on the range Sundaymorning and had moved on to irons as he worked his way through the bag beforethe final round of the Sony Open. Erik Compton arrived and took the spot next tohim.
About 10 minutes later, Leonard was surprised to hear the sound of a shotfrom over his shoulder. He turned to see Compton bending to tee up another ball.
“You’re hitting driver already?” Leonard said.Erik Compton drives onto the 1…
AP - Jan 14, 5:56 pm EST
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Compton smiled and joked back, “I used to come out and just hit fourdrivers on the Nationwide Tour.”
One couldn’t help but wonder if that was yet another physical restrictionfor Compton, who already has had two heart transplants. Turns out it was thedesign of this range, which has a prevailing left-to-right wind that might leadto 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 iswell known, and no less amazing.
Because of viral cardiomyopathy as a kid, he had his first heart transplantwhen he was 12. He suffered a heart attack on Oct. 3, 2007, and drove himself tothe hospital with his heart running at 15 percent capacity. His second hearttransplant was seven months later, and five months later made the cut on the PGATour while playing on a sponsor’s exemption.
The highlight for Compton, at least on the golf course, came last summerwhen he won the Mexico Open on the Nationwide Tour, which coupled with goodresults earlier, assured him of finishing in the top 25 on the money list andgraduating to the big leagues.
The Sony Open was his 31st start on the PGA Tour, his 20th since getting athird heart, his first as a full-fledged member. As if anyone could doubt afighting spirit, he was headed toward a missed cut until finishing birdie-eagleto make the cut on the number.
With another cut in effect Saturday, Compton made a 10-foot birdie on thelast hole that pushed him through to Sunday. It was worth another round, a smallexample 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 througha heart transplant to be a college success and play in the Walker Cup. Survivinga second heart transplant. Returning to play golf. Winning on the NationwideTour. Reaching the PGA Tour.
Where does it end?
“I don’t think my story is quite done yet,” Compton said. “I thinksometimes Hollywood wants an ending, and something that’s going to see is nevergood enough. You have to win a PGA event, and then you have to win a major, andthen you have to win a Grand Slam, and then you’ve got to be the president ofthe 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 withCompton. For all the trauma he has endured, despite a road to the PGA Tourunmatched 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 theleaderboard.
“I just really want to be able to compete and be able to make adifference,” he said.
One of these days, Compton will get the same questions as most everyone elseon the PGA Tour—details of the round, key shots, being in contention, copingwith nerves going into the weekend with a chance.
He’s different, though, because while he wants to be a golfer and achieve asmuch 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 todevelop medicine to treat serious or life-threatening conditions. Comptondescribes it as a “perfect fit.”
“We’re trying to promote more organ donor awareness and trying to get morepeople to donate organs because there’s a shortage,” he said. “By me playingand being able to share my story, I think people will realize that it really isa real thing and it affects normal people every day. So I think that’s kind ofthe 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 golfcourse,” he said. “I just feel like a regular person, and being able to playsuccessful and good golf for me is just being healthy.”
But he is finding some normalcy in the clubhouse, on the putting green, atlunch, on the golf course.
“When I go in the locker room, they just look at me like I’m a regularplayer,” he said. “None of the players ever ask me, and I kind of respectthat, because they understand that I’m getting that on the other end. But I kindof 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 aclue.” That’s OK. He expects to get that as long as he’s playing golf, and hedoesn’t mind talking about it.
Part of him looks forward to the day when he gets the same questions thatJeff 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?”