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.
“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.