Compton's story is heartwarming

By Jason SobelJune 15, 2014, 12:48 am

PINEHURST, N.C. – Erik Compton was nervous and frightened. He was 12 years old and lying in a hospital bed, the result of a faulty heart that had left him hooked up to scary-looking machines while surrounded by a swirling sea of doctors and nurses, each prepping him for transplant surgery.

His parents were nervous and frightened, too. They couldn’t show it, though, not in front of their son. Peter and Eli Compton needed to put up a brave front. They needed to encourage their youngest son. They needed to tell him that everything would be OK.

No, they needed to tell him that everything would be better than OK.

“We just said once you get a new heart, you’re going to be a champion,” his mother remembers. “You’re going to get the heart of a champion.”

Twenty-two years ago, Eli Compton (her first name is pronounced Ellie) wasn’t trying to foreshadow the 114th U.S. Open Championship. In fact, her son loved baseball more than golf back then. Following the surgery, he sat in a wheelchair, looked into a camera and offered the same proclamation that he’d first made four years earlier: “I’m going to be a Major League baseball player.”

U.S. Open: Articles, videos and photos

U.S. Open full-field scores

His career on the baseball diamond – not to mention the football field and basketball court, each the product of all that encouragement from his parents – stalled, but his pursuit of golf soared. He became a top-ranked junior player, competed for the University of Georgia and turned professional.

If that sounds like a Hollywood movie, what came next was the rare sequel that might have outshined the original.

In 2008, at age 28, Compton drove himself to the hospital, fearing the worst. Once again, the swirl of doctors and nurses hooked him up to machines. Once again, he was given a new heart.

It didn’t take long for him to return to professional golf - first on the developmental Nationwide Tour, then graduating to the PGA Tour. He’s yet to win on the world’s most elite circuit, but if this story needed a Hollywood ending, perhaps it’s coming this week.

Entering the final round at Pinehurst No. 2, Compton is tied for second place, just five strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer and with a major championship victory well within striking distance.

The symbolism of a man on his third heart contending at the year’s most grueling tournament hasn’t been lost on him.

“I’m just trying to execute and then move to the next shot,” he says. “I guess that’s kind of reflective of how I’ve always lived my life. If you have a bad situation or a bad day, you get up and try to do it again.”

Erik Compton the golfer is ranked 187th in the world. He’s played in 99 career PGA Tour events and has finished in the top 10 in exactly three of them – two this year. Prior to this week, he’d played in only one career major, missing the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open, but as he not-so-subtly points out, “You’ve got to give me a break - I just had a new heart.”

Erik Compton the two-time heart transplant recipient is probably ranked a lot higher, if you could measure the impact he’s had on children around the world who are undergoing similar surgery to what he endured. When he was 12, his mother remembers, there was nobody with that experience who could offer him their support.

The two are forever entwined, the transplant recipient and the golfer, not just because they are one and the same, but because one led to the other. He might not be here – on the leaderboard, contending for one of the game’s most prestigious titles – without the journey. It steeled him for the so-called pressures of playing a game. It hardened his resolve in a world where the failures always exceed the successes.

“If I go out and shoot 90, I don’t think anyone will be surprised,” he says. “But if I shoot 67 again, you may be surprised.”

Just as his parents once sat in that hospital room and whispered words of encouragement to him, just as he often offers similar words of encouragement to children awaiting transplants, he’s received support from some of golf’s most legendary sources.

Two weeks ago, Compton had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village. He hadn’t yet qualified for the U.S. Open, but the four-time winner knew his game would suit this venue. “If you get there, you’re going to have a special week,” Nicklaus told him. And on Saturday morning, with Compton needing a strong round to move up the leaderboard, Chi Chi Rodriguez called him and said, “You’re going to shoot 64 today.”

He missed by three strokes, but the third-round 3-under 67 tied for the best score of the day and put him in contention for not just a U.S. Open title, but for sports story of the year. Or decade.

Compton is equal parts inspirational, motivational and heartwarming – everything needed for a good Hollywood script. Now he’ll try to write his perfect ending at a tournament that he knows is a perfect symbol of his perseverance.

“I think my attitude suits a U.S. Open-style course,” he explains. “Because I don’t ever give up.”

Getty Images

Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Getty Images

Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

Getty Images

DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

Getty Images

Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.