CHARLESTON, S.C. – Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton earned a PGA Tour card when he finished in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list, while Ken Duke won the season-ended Nationwide Tour Championship on Sunday to also secure a spot on the big tour.
Duke closed with a 4-under 68 to finish at 10 under on Daniel Island Club’s Ralston Creek Course, two better than Scott Brown. The 42-year-old Duke earned $180,000 and went from 36th to seventh on the money list.
Compton wasn’t sure he’d ever play pro golf, let alone be member of the PGA Tour.
Yet the two-time heart transplant recipient finished off his dream Sunday. Compton mostly secured his spot in June when he won his first Nationwide title at the Mexico Open. He ended 13th overall with $239,737 to advance.
The 31-year-old Compton has played 30 career PGA events, but none with a tour card in his bag.
“It’s a miracle,” he said. “It really is a miracle what I’ve been able to achieve.”
J.J. Killeen won the money title, which made him fully exempt on the PGA Tour and gave him entry into the The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in May.
And the day ended with some drama as Brown made a long par-saving putt on the 17th and birdie on the 18th to finish alone in second when a bogey down the stretch would’ve dropped Billy Hurley III from the final qualifying spot at No. 25.
Hurley, a former Naval lieutenant who was on active duty in the Persian Gulf guarding Iraqi oil platforms two years ago, hugged his wife when Brown’s last put dropped.
James Nitties, who began the week in 23rd, fell to 26th, just outside what it took to join the PGA Tour.
There were plenty of smiles and disappointments as loud, celebratory music blared from the clubhouse when the event was over. None of the triumphs, though, seemed as amazing as Compton’s rise from two heart transplants. He was diagnosed at age 9 with cardiomyopathy, an enlarging of the heart that deters its ability to pump blood. Three years later in 1992, Compton received a new heart. He needed another donor heart in 2008 when the first one failed.
Compton took up golf after his first transplant as a way to exercise. It’s turned into much, much more.
“This game has been such a rehab for life for me, where I could go out and not think about the issues I have,” he said.
Compton had another setback this summer after playing in the PGA Tour’s AT&T National last July when his body rejected his heart, something doctors got under control with additional medicine. He took several weeks off and struggled to find his earlier form until recently. His tie for 18th at Daniel Island was his best placing since the win in Mexico.
“I came in here and just till the end I was pretty frustrated because I really wanted to play well and have a top finish,” Compton said. “At the end of the day, we’re all perfectionists.”
Duke said he’s ready to take once again take on the challenges of the sport’s top series. He might want to circle any events played in South Carolina. Duke’s only other Nationwide victory came at the BMW Classic around Greenville in 2006. He lost in a playoff on this course a year later to Michael Sim when the event was the Palmetto Pride Classic. He’s already planning an early April stop in Hilton Head for next year’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
“I knew I had some good memories here and I just had to be patient,” Duke said.
That was good advice for everyone who sweated out the final round with their futures on the line.
Hurley was 25th when the tournament began, then bounced back and forth on the qualifying line as the round played out. He seemed destined for disappointment when as David Lingmerth worked his way into second place for a while, but bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes dropped him back into a tie for third - and gave Hurley the last spot by fewer than $6,000 over Nitties.
“It was nice to see the cameras out there,” Hurley said. “I knew I was close.”