Erik Compton is admired for his ability to get back up and fight after two heart transplants, but a lot of people watching him work magic at the Greenbrier Classic Thursday don’t know this trait is in the family genes.
As golf writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, I started covering Erik when he was 17. I met him in my first year on the beat, and I can still see him behind the PGA National Resort & Spa at the Optimist International Junior Championship. Fittingly, he was seated in a golf cart beside his mother, Eli, while talking to his father, Peter, on a cell phone about his round. This is the closest family I’ve ever met.
Last month, I wrote something after walking with the Comptons as Erik played the first round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but it’s worth repeating.
Erik’s older brother and only sibling, Christian, broke his neck in a snowboarding accident while in college.
That was seven years ago. He was temporarily paralyzed, and though he’s nearly completely recovered, he still has some lingering issues.
Watching Erik play the famed 17th hole at Pebble Beach, I asked Christian what physical problems he still experiences.
“Minor nerve damage,” Christian said with a literal shrug of his shoulders.
Then Christian smiled, adding what all the Comptons are so marvelously able to add amid their struggles.
“In my family, a broken neck’s not enough to complain about,” Christian said.
Of all the incredible quotes in all the Compton stories I’ve written, that’s my favorite. It speaks to that family’s resilience and its remarkable good humor.
Through Erik’s struggles, the public at large also didn’t know that Erik’s mother, Eli, was fighting breast cancer. She’s a survivor, seven years out from her diagnosis.
“We know what it is to be afraid,” Eli told me as we walked Pebble Beach’s famed 18th hole. “But we’ve learned that you can’t let it take over your life.'
I wrote something else at that U.S. Open worth repeating, something I’ve always thought people misunderstand about Erik. There’s this notion Erik’s a fearless player. That’s not true at all. He lives with fear that most of us can’t imagine, fear that re-ignites when he least expects it, fear that swells when he feels more than the odd skip of his heartbeat.
Erik doesn’t share these fears, but through Eli I’ve come to understand it’s not Erik’s fearlessness that sets him apart as he pursues his golf dream. It's how he keeps figuring out how to beat his fears, a legion of opponents much fiercer than the field at Greenbrier.
It’s what I’ve come to admire about the entire family since first meeting them.