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2 heart transplants, 1 shot to win US Open

Digital Drive: Can Anyone Pass Kaymer?


By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Columnist

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) -- Golfers like to say nothing rivals the pressure of coming down the stretch in contention at a major championship. Erik Compton knows better.

The 34-year-old journeyman fired a 3-under 67 to put himself squarely in the mix Saturday at Pinehurst No. 2 - tied for second at 3 under, though still five strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer. And Compton did it without his pulse racing or his heart beating unusually fast. Good thing, too, because he's on his third heart.

You read that right. Compton would rather be known for his golf than what he has overcome, but he has never been on a stage nearly this big. And this is what he has overcome to finally step out onto it:

Compton needed a heart transplant at 12, then again six years ago, not long he had a heart attack while driving home from a lesson with longtime coach Charlie DeLucca. That one was what doctors refer to as a "widow-maker." Convinced he wasn't going to survive the 20 minutes he needed to drive himself to the hospital, Compton called his mother, Eli, to tell her goodbye.

"He said, `Mom, I'm not going to make it.' He said goodbye to all of us," Eli Compton recalled, standing not far from the 18th green, where her son had just exited to a thunderous ovation. "I said, `Stop. Call 911.'

"He didn't," she sighed. "Somehow, he made it."

A reporter asked her what made her son so tough, so determined not to stop.

"He's half-Norwegian," she said, breaking into a wide grin. "And we didn't allow it."

Compton isn't shy about sharing his story, but he tries to be as businesslike as possible on the course. That's why he likes to stay far from family and friends on tournament days, especially at a major (even though this is only his second). Being pretty tough herself, Eli Compton looked at the scoreboard before he teed off, saw the wave of high scores posted by the morning group, and told him about it, anyway.

"I just told her to get up and walk away," Compton laughed.

"I love my parents and I love all my friends," he added quickly, "but you just don't want to hear about what's going on, because you need to get ready when you go play. It doesn't matter what anybody else does, it matters what you do. I decided that I was going to hit fairways and greens and try and make the best executions I can. That's all you can ask yourself to do."

For most of his pro career, interrupted as it was by that second heart attack, that hasn't been enough. Compton was the No. 1-ranked junior in the United States at 18, a two-time All-American at Georgia, but he's spent way more time battling second-stringers and up-and-comers on the Web.com and Canadian tours than he has against the best out on the PGA Tour.

With full playing privileges on the big tour this year, Compton is having his best season ever - 19 starts, 13 made cuts and a pair of top-10 finishes. His sense that his game was coming around, that it might just be up to major championship-caliber, picked up another important endorsement two weeks ago at the Memorial.

"I had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield and he kind of winked at me and said, `Your game will suit Pinehurst,'" Compton said. "So he had a smile on his face and it was kind of neat to ... when I qualified, I let him know that I qualified."

Compton doesn't downplay the inspirational part of his story, but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve, either. No matter. It's well-known inside the golfing world, which explains why Chi Chi Rodriguez, another former great, rang him up early Saturday.

"He told me I was going to go out and shoot 64 and he was ... he told me how tough I was," Compton said. "There's different characters of the game that I feel like I've gained strength from and it's nice to have the greats take an interest in me. ...

"Maybe it's just kind of a self-fulfilling thing that I brought on myself," he said. "But I felt like I was going to have a great week this week."

Not everyone buys that. Rickie Fowler, who was tied for second with Compton, called his pal, "a sneaky good player. I look at him definitely as an equal competitor.

"Look at his results," Fowler added a moment later, "and you'll see he definitely deserves this."

Eli Compton seconded that notion. Someone asked her whether she could have imagined a day when her son's unyielding attitude would carry him all the way to the last day of a U.S. Open with a chance to win. She didn't hesitate.

"I always thought he would win a major," Eli Compton replied. "With all the work he's done, why shouldn't he?

Why not indeed?

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twalsh4440 June 15 2014 at 11:07 AM

UNBELIEVABLE STORY IF HE WINS IT WILL BE THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED IN MY TIME OF ALL SPORTS

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bullsbearsnyseny twalsh4440 June 15 2014 at 8:16 PM

YES WALSH - MINE AS WELL.............

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brianb4 June 15 2014 at 6:29 PM

2 heart transplants?? Hello?? My sister had secondary liver cancer and died from it. Why, because the cancer came from elsewhere and that made her not eligible for a transplant. What is killing this guy's hearts and why are we wasting them on the same person?? Sorry, not a good story for me by any means. If you think I'm an as#hole, go ask a family who lost a member waiting for a heart what they think of this story.

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biffcove brianb4 June 15 2014 at 6:39 PM

You would feel different if it was yor kid or YOU!!!!!!!!!!!! Stupid comment. Putting a heart in you would be a wastre!!!

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Jerry biffcove June 15 2014 at 8:08 PM

If this was an ordinary person without fame and connections he would have been entitled to only one heart. Someone else died for the heart he got because of his connections. You are only to get ONE heart! Don't call a person a waste because you are so ignorant of the rules and the way things work with transplants. It only shows your stupidity!

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twalsh4440 brianb4 June 15 2014 at 6:49 PM

2 hearts In 15 years your comments are BELOW CRUEL the writing of a LUNATIC GET HELP My wife died of Ovarian SO WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING

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brianb4 June 15 2014 at 8:06 PM

To Twalsh:
Sorry your wife died of ovarian cancer. Replacing her ovaries would not have saved her life. Replacing my sisters liver would have given her years more of living. Biffcove: you are absolutely right, I did feel different until I watched my sister waste away because they wouldn't give her a liver they knew would eventually be killed by cancer. What is the difference after he got his second heart, and it failed? We didn't get a first chance. So instead of misreading what I'm trying to say and the two of you thinking I'm cruel and stupid, put yourself in my position having gone through it and ask yourself why is one person given multiple chances, and another isn't, while so many simply die from their affliction? I totally understand and AGREE with the denial of giving my sister a new liver. It would be a failure. And I have to believe the medical community knows full well his body won't support his third heart much better than the first two.

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ALBERT CHIARELLO brianb4 June 15 2014 at 9:44 PM

Stupid comment...what else is new. How do you know what caused his first transplant to fail? Maybe it was a medication problem, maybe an allergic reaction to immunosuppresents. The answer is you have no idea, and, as a result, your text is uniformed and idiotic.

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brianb4 June 15 2014 at 8:50 PM

Thank you Jerry. I'm a giving person, and always have been, but people not reading through stories is getting old to me. My sister volunteered for experimental drugs with NIH and was denied. You chew on that, and at first you're angry, but you start to see their reasoning. You are dead on about privilege, money, status etc. And that is exactly what I was trying to say, apparently not very well.

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Donal McDevitt June 16 2014 at 3:12 AM

Erik Compton's story is one that makes the sun shine. It is not a story of fame, riches or silver spoons but one of survival, persistence and incredible hard work. It is one that renews our belief in what's possible without justifying our failures. Just awesome

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