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Par 5: Five questions for this week in golf

Erik Compton
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Setting the agenda for the week ahead with five questions for tournament golf at large . . .

Where does Erik Compton’s determination come from?

After his breakthrough Nationwide Tour victory in Mexico Sunday, Compton jumps back into the spotlight playing the AT&T National on a sponsor’s exemption this week.

If you know Compton, you know joy follows pain as a miraculous pattern in the family history.

So it was again this past weekend when Compton won.

The Comptons are a wonderfully close family. They’re also all wonderfully resilient. Erik’s two heart transplants are only part of the family’s story. Erik’s getting back up to fight isn’t just the story of his life.

Erik’s mother, Eli, was at her summer home on the west coast of Norway last week waiting for Erik’s father, Peter, to arrive when she was stricken with a “terrible intestinal infection.” She was hospitalized. With Erik making his run into contention, Eli, who was raised in Norway, also found herself in some psychological pain.

“The hospitals in Norway don’t have Golf Channel,” Eli said. “I wasn’t able to follow what was happening with Erik.”

Peter was in Sacramento, Calif., tending to Erik’s ill grandmother. Christian, Erik’s older and only brother, was in Miami, where the Comptons all live. Barbara, Erik’s wife, and Petra, Erik’s 2½-year-old daughter, were back in Miami, too.

“We were all over the globe, texting each other, calling, crying after he won, we were so happy,” Eli said. “It’s an amazing ride with this kid, but we were all in so many different time zones, we didn’t know if it was morning or night talking to each other.”

Eli was released from the hospital before the final round, but she had to follow the action on the internet. She was up at 3 a.m. waiting for the score on the final hole to come through the web site.

“When Erik won, Christian called me, but he was so emotional he couldn’t speak,” Eli said. “He had to hang up.”

Erik’s first call was to his wife.

“Oh my God, he was so happy,” Barbara said. “It was a dream come true, and now that it looks like Erik will be playing the PGA Tour next year, it’s another dream coming true.”

Erik isn’t the only Compton to have gone through hell and back to see this glorious victory

Eli is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago.

Christian broke his neck back when he was in college in a snowboarding accident. He was temporarily paralyzed, though he’s nearly completely recovered, some minor nerve damage the only remnant of the frightening fall.

“In my family, a broken neck’s not enough to complain about,” Christian once told me.

The Compton family story isn’t really about their fearless lives, but about how they’ve overcome so much fear.

“I’ll never forget how emotional Erik’s father was telling me how he had to say goodbye to Erik before the second heart transplant surgery because they wondered if they were going to see him again,” said Jim McLean, the swing coach. “This is a strong, supportive family.”

Peter is a vice president with Royal Caribbean who oversees entertainment for the cruise line. Eli is executive director of the Miami-based Transplant Foundation, a calling she pursued to help families after Erik’s first transplant. Christian was a project manager for Royal Caribbean’s construction of the Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship on the planet.

“We know what it is to be afraid, to be crazy with fear sometimes, but we’ve learned that you can’t let it take over your life,” Eli said.

They’ve learned there can be so much joy after the pain.


Does anyone play with more joy than Yani Tseng?

Nobody smiles more when they play than Tseng.

There’s a joy in her game that was easy to see in her runaway rout at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

Gary Gilchrist, Tseng’s coach, likes that about her game. He also likes that so much of her swing is an expression of who she is as a person.

“She plays golf like her personality,” Gilchrist said. “She’s very aggressive, and she goes at it hard.”

As aggressively as Tseng plays, there’s a rhythm to her powerful swing that is a key to making her one of the best drivers on tour.

“The speed, the flow of the swing, I love that,” Gilchrist said.

Tseng isn’t nearly as tall at Brittany Lincicome or Michelle Wie, doesn’t have the long swing arc those big hitters have, but she creates a lot of speed with the lag in her move. She ranks fifth on the LPGA tour in driving distance, averaging 270.5 yards per drive, just behind Wie (270.6) and Lincicome (271.5). Stephanie Kim is the longest hitter on tour so far this year, averaging 278.5 yards per drive.


How many records will Tseng smash before she’s finished?

Back before the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, I wrote that somebody better step up and stop Tseng’s momentum because she looked like she was on her way to becoming better than Babe Zaharias, Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth. It looked like another big victory could give her the confidence and momentum needed to make the game’s greatest players her only real rivals.

Yes, it seemed over the top, especially after Stacy Lewis came from behind to beat Tseng in the final round, but with Tseng’s runaway at the Wegmans LPGA, she has now won four majors at 22, more than anyone that age except Young Tom Morris. The story seemed over the top because Tseng is so young to project that kind of success upon, but that was my point. At 22, she’s got more than potential. She’s got time to go with the proven record.

Despite Tseng’s youth, there are only three active players in the women’s game who have won more majors. That’s Juli Inkster (7), Karrie Webb (7) and Se Ri Pak (5).


Which amateur do you like best at the AT&T National this week?

There’s a terrific amateur subplot at Aronimink.

Patrick Cantlay isn’t the only amateur wunderkind playing the AT&T National on a sponsor’s exemption. Peter Uihlein’s also in the field.

While Cantlay impressed with his low amateur finish at the U.S. Open and his run into contention shooting a second-round 60 at the Travelers last week, Uihlein’s equally accomplished. Cantlay won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top collegian as a freshman at UCLA this past season, but Uihlen, a senior to be at Oklahoma State, is the reigning U.S. Amateur champ and No. 1 amateur in the nation. Uihlein beat Cantlay in the U.S. Amateur semifinals at Chambers Bay last summer.

OK, it’s dreaming, but with the game feeling as young as it does, how big would the story be if a couple young amateurs contended at AT&T National?


Will Ryan Moore’s momentum carry into the AT&T National?

After a hot run at the Travelers ended with a disappointing missed 4-foot putt at the final hole and runner-up finish, Moore heads to Aronimink, where he should enjoy some favorable vibes. Moore finished second to Justin Rose at Aronimink a year ago. After a couple 64s and a closing 63 at the Travelers, Moore’s confidence should be high despite the disappointing ending. Moore has three finishes of fifth or better this year in bids to claim his second PGA Tour title.