Compton beginning to be known for golf as well as heart

By Rex HoggardJune 26, 2014, 7:34 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Erik Compton birdied his last four holes Thursday.

Erik Compton is two strokes off the early lead after an opening 68.

Erik Compton is on the cusp of qualifying for his first Open Championship.

Erik Compton’s fifth question following his solid start at the Quicken Loans National may as well have come from one of the team of doctors that have turned the 34-year-old into a medical miracle.

“A lot of coverage of that Open was revolving around you and the heart surgery. What is that like to look back on?” a reporter asked.

Compton could win the last two legs of the Grand Slam this season – an even more amazing feat considering he’s not qualifying to play next month at Royal Liverpool – and lead the U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory in Scotland, and the first question will always be about his two heart transplant surgeries.

It is a reality that, with age, Compton has come to embrace.


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“If I had 18 birdies today it would have been the first question,” he said Thursday at Congressional. “I’m used to it. I know that my heart is always going to be the story, but I think it will be a little less this week. I embrace the story.”

For all the right reasons the fringe golf fan discovered Compton and his amazing story when he took the silver medal at the U.S. Open two weeks ago. Perhaps no one in the history of the game who finished eight strokes out of the lead has received so much attention.

Compton, who needed extra holes at qualifying just to earn a spot at Pinehurst, was gracious and engaging. For a guy who struggles to maintain his energy levels because of the physical limitations of having a transplanted heart, not to mention the pharmacy he must maintain to stay healthy, injected a distinct level of excitement into the U.S. Open proceedings.

 And his golf wasn’t bad, either.

Because of Compton’s inspiring story it’s easy to overlook the fact that he is an extremely gifted player, not to mention a gritty competitor.

Even before his magical week at Pinehurst, Compton was enjoying his best season as a professional. He tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 12th at the Shell Houston Open and fifth in New Orleans.

“He’s gotten a lot more disciplined. He knows now when to put his foot on the right pedal and when to put the foot on the left pedal,” said Victor Billskoog, Compton’s caddie for the last year. “It’s all experience and discipline. It’s tough to lay back sometimes, but he has gotten very good at it.”

In his third full season on Tour, Compton’s temperament has caught up with all that talent.

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that despite his medical limitations, this week’s Quicken Loans National is his 22nd start of the season, tying him for the second most on Tour.

This week is his third consecutive start, a planned run in an attempt to qualify for the Open Championship. The top four players this week not already exempt to play Hoylake among the top 12 finishers earn a spot at the year’s third major.

“This week is a time for me to really focus on getting the job done and try to get in the British Open,” said Compton, who was tied for third when he completed his round.

Although he missed the cut at the Travelers Championship, his first start after the U.S. Open, he had arguably the game’s best putter to fix things last week when he partnered with Brad Faxon at the CVS Caremark Charity Classic.

Literally, Faxon fixed Compton’s putter.

“Somehow it had gotten bent from 3 degrees (of loft) to 1 degree,” Compton explained. “As soon as he picked it up he said, ‘This thing is not right.’”

On Thursday he converted putts from 16, 5 and 14 feet to close his round on his way to 27 putts, and talked – between heart and health questions – about his growing confidence after the U.S. Open.

The player who is batting .500 keeping his Tour card in his career is now on pace to play the third major of his career, earn a spot at the Tour Championship and maybe even change the conversation, however slightly.

He will always be the Tour player who has survived two heart transplant surgeries. The difference now is that in between health queries he is asked an occasional question about his golf.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.