Compton impacts lives, inspires others like him

By Jason SobelJune 18, 2014, 12:30 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. – George Petro Jr. runs a hand through his closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair and begins sobbing softly. Standing in the same hospital room where eight days earlier he received a heart transplant, the sobbing grows, his shoulders heaving up and down.

He knows he shouldn’t remove the light yellow surgical mask covering his nose and mouth, but he does anyway. A chorus of objections immediately ensues from the nearby collection of doctors and nurses. George sheepishly places the mask back on.

“I’m sorry,” he says through tears. “I guess this is an example of what not to do.”

It’s just that he can’t help himself. For 169 days, ever since Christmas Eve, he’d been here in Hartford Hospital, waiting for his transplant. He has literally been given a new lease on life – and if that isn’t enough to inspire him, George is now standing face to face with a man who has dedicated himself to inspiring people like him.

ERIK COMPTON is the only heart transplant recipient to play on the PGA Tour, having twice undergone this surgery. His story has made headlines for years, how he received his first transplant at age 12, then another at 28, but it reached a new high this past weekend, appealing to the masses as he finished in a share of second place at the U.S. Open.

Even though Compton has been making hospital visits since he turned professional, first independently and in the last three years as part of a partnership between Genentech and Donate Life, he’s cognizant of how this one might look two days after his career-best result.

“I don’t want this to seem like I’m just doing it because of the U.S. Open,” explains Compton, who is competing in this week's Travelers Championship in nearby Cromwell. “This is a regular thing that I do. I’m not doing it for the publicity.”

Erik Compton

Erik Compton and George Petro Jr. at Hartford Hospital

He understands the impact he can make. He understands how patients who are hooked up to machines, just like he once was, can see his success and use it as fuel.

“I remember visiting a young kid,” he says. “His name was Kevin Garcia and he was 12 years old and he did not want to speak to me. He did not want to speak to anybody. But I relayed him a little bit of a message and I left a golf bag in his room and when I left it made a huge impact on him, because now he's a huge golfer and he's 21 years old and he's doing well with his transplant. You never know the impact that you're going to have on a kid.”

Shawn Fullard isn’t a kid anymore. Retired from the Connecticut Department of Corrections, where she served as a prison counselor, she underwent her first heart transplant in 1998. She needs a new one now – and a kidney, too. In the meantime, she spends her days lying in a hospital bed, wistfully looking out a bay window.

“At least you have a window,” Compton says while visiting with her.

Shawn had never heard of Compton, didn’t know his story until she was recently told that he’d be stopping by her room. So she did some research, then watched the U.S. Open on the small television attached to her bed.

“It was exciting,” she says. “I was so proud of him coming in second.”

Now here he is, the man who’d played golf on that small TV in her room less than 48 hours earlier, standing here in front of her, admiring her view.

Shawn begs to differ, though. “I don’t want to look outside,” she admits. “I can’t get out there. My husband comes in and says, ‘Oh, baby, it’s a beautiful day out there.’ I just want to kill him.”

The room grows silent. What do you say to a woman who can’t go outside? What do you say to someone who is constantly tormented by a reminder of her pain?

Compton breaks the silence with words that can only come from experience.

“You just have to visualize yourself getting out there,” he explains. “You’ve done it once, you can do it again.”

GEORGE IS a golfer. Not a pro like Compton, he assures him, but pretty decent in his own right, usually shooting around 8 or 10 over par at his local muni.

He can’t wait to play again – and maybe he’ll invite his fellow transplant recipient along someday.

“I’d love to golf with Erik,” he says. “He showed me that I have a second chance. He did it twice. I have a lot to live for.”

It’s about more than just golf, though. For a man who spent nearly six months in a hospital room  before receiving his transplant, he just wants to enjoy this new lease on life.

“A week ago, I didn’t have the heart,” George explains. “Now I have it. I can’t wait to smell the air outside.”

He begins sobbing once again, his shoulders heaving up and down. This time, his mask remains on. It collects the tears as they trickle down.

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.

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Koepka: 'Surreal' Woods waited to say congrats at PGA

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:47 pm

Brooks Koepka was moved by the respect shown when Tiger Woods waited for a half hour at scoring last Sunday to congratulate Koepka for his PGA Championship victory at Bellerive.

While Koepka stands as an example of the new athletes Woods has attracted to the game, he laughs hearing people compare his body to an NFL player’s.

Those were among the observations Koepka shared Friday on "The Dan Patrick Show."

“That was surreal,” Koepka said of Woods waiting to congratulate him. “To hang around on 18, I wasn’t expecting it. It was probably the coolest gesture he could have done.”

Koepka credits Woods for drawing him to the game.

“He’s the reason I am playing,” Koepka said.

Koepka said playing with Woods in contention was a noisy experience that went beyond the roars Woods created making birdies in front of him.

“Even when he makes contact, you know what shot he’s hitting,” Koepka said. “That’s how loud people are.

“When they are putting [his score] up on the leaderboard, you hear it three holes away.”

About those NFL player comparisons, Koepka said his parents wouldn’t let him play football when he was growing up.

“I wasn’t big enough,” he said.

Koepka said he marveled meeting former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

“To be compared to them, it makes me laugh,” Koepka said. “I’m about the size of a cornerback, maybe a free safety.”

Koepka said he’s just over 6 feet tall and weighs 208 pounds.

“I saw Brian Urlacher give an interview,” Koepka said. “It was kind of funny. He said he was impressed at how big I wasn’t ... If I stand next to Justin Thomas, I’m going to look big. Golf doesn’t really have many big guys.”

Koepka told Patrick he is impressed at the athletes just now coming into golf.

“I see the young guys coming out of college,” Koepka said. “They are bombing it past me. They hit it so far, they are leaving me in the dust. It’s hard to think of, because I’ve been one of the longest hitters on tour.”

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McIlroy skipping first FedExCup playoff event

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:19 pm

Rory McIlroy committed to playing the FedExCup Playoffs opener at The Northern Trust, the PGA Tour announced after The Open Championship last month.

But McIlroy left the PGA Championship last week saying he might need to skip the opener to regroup, and that’s just what he is doing.

McIlroy wasn’t on The Northern Trust field list published Friday on the PGA Tour’s website.

“I need to assess where I'm at,” McIlroy said leaving Bellerive last week. “I think the best thing for me to do right now is just sort of take a couple days off, reflect on what I need to do going forward.

“The best thing might be to take that first FedExCup week off and work on my game and come back, hopefully, in a better place for Boston.”

McIlroy also skipped the FedExCup opener in 2015, choosing to make his start in the playoffs at Boston that year. It appears he will do the same this year.

“Historically, the first FedEx playoff event hasn't been my best event of the four,” McIlroy said. “I've played well in Boston. I've played pretty well in the other two.”

McIlroy left Bellerive saying he would do some work on his game and see if he felt ready for the playoffs opener as part of a run of big events leading into the Ryder Cup.

“There's a lot of room for improvement,” McIlroy said. “My swing really hasn't been where I want it to be. It was pretty good at the start of the year. I had a couple of months to work on it, but it's just sort of regressed as the season went on and you start to play tournaments, you start to fall back into some of the habits that you don't want to fall back into."

McIlroy has won once over the last two seasons – at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March – but he has given himself other chances this year with some frustrating finishes. Overall, he has five finishes of third or better in 2018. He got himself in the final pairing with Patrick Reed at the Masters but stumbled to a T-5 finish. He tied for second at The Open last month.

“Inconsistency with the swing has been the big area,” McIlroy said. “If you look at my statistics, especially with approach play on my irons, and even my driving, even though it's been OK, there's been a two-way miss, with sort of everything throughout the bag, and that obviously isn't a good thing. So that's something I need to work on.”

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Watch: Wagner saves season with walk-off eagle dunk

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 2:45 am

Johnson Wagner kept his FedExCup Playoff hopes alive on Friday at the Wyndham Championship ... and he did it in dramatic fashion.

Needing a birdie on his final hole of the day to make the cut on the number, Johnson used a 9-iron from 153 yards out to dunk his approach for eagle to get inside the cut line.

Johnson's eagle at the last gave him a 66 for the day and earned him two more rounds to try and get inside the FedExCup top 125 for next week's start of the postseason, The Northern Trust.