Erik Compton climbing rankings, sharing story of survival

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CROMWELL >> Erik Compton quickly became a more recognizable name on the PGA Tour. Being in contention for the U.S. Open title will have that type of effect.


He finished tied for second place Sunday, eight shots behind winner Martin Kaymer. The galleries warmed to the 34-year-old Miami resident with each shot.


“It doesn’t feel like last week. It feels like a few hours ago,” said Compton, who is playing the Travelers Championship this week. “It was a very exciting, solid four days of golf. It still hasn’t been able to really hit me. …I’m right back here trying to play this week and I don’t know if I’m going to be as well-prepared as I was last week for the Open.”


The fact that Compton is playing competitive golf at the highest level, let alone be in the second-to-last group in the final round of the U.S. Open, can be considered nothing short of a miracle of modern-day medicine.


Compton survived not one, but two heart transplants before age 30. The first came when he was 12, three years after being diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart that prevents it from pumping blood at a life-sustaining rate.


The second transplant came in 2008. In between, he earned All-American status at the University of Georgia, then turned professional in 2001.


Compton earned full-time status on the PGA Tour beginning in 2012. For over two years, Donate Life America has partnered with the PGA Tour and Compton for “Play Through with Erik Compton,” a program to raise public awareness about organ donation.


“Regardless of whether I don’t play good golf, I’m always in a room at some place or hospital or at functions sharing my story,” Compton said. “It’s therapeutic for me to share my story and I’m very comfortable being in that situation.”


How will his situation change? While Compton’s story was well-known in golf circles, it is now known on a national level thanks to his performance at Pinehurst No. 2.


“I don’t know the magnitude of it until I leave the area of the golf course and I haven’t left it yet,” Compton said. “Are people going to stop me at a gas station? Are people going to stop me at a grocery store? I don’t think it’s going to change anything. People stopped me at the airport, but they were at the tournament. …My next-door neighbor doesn’t even know I play golf.”


The U.S. Open was his best finish ever on tour. It not only got him into next year’s Open, it also got him into the 2015 Masters and this year’s PGA Championship.


But he does have his sights set on making the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Compton is currently 19th in the standings. The top 10 get selected just after Labor Day.


“I would love to play on the Ryder Cup team, and that’s now a possibility if I continue to play really, really well,” said Compton, who jumped up over 100 spots in the world rankings to No. 73 this week.


It’s foolish to think Compton will rest on his laurels. Not after where he has been — on the national donor list, twice, for a heart.


He recalled a time, after his first transplant, when he was feeling sorry for himself. His father “yanked me out of a car and told me, ‘If you feel sorry for yourself for the rest of your life, you are never going to get anywhere.’”


His dad’s reaction after his finish last week? “He’s trying to figure out what I could have done (to win). He never looked at me like he was shocked. It was like, ‘OK, this was what we were supposed to do.’”


Compton will continue his campaign visiting hospitals, delivering his message about the importance of organ donation every week he is out on tour.


“I’m just enjoying the journey, and there’s still a lot of golf and life ahead of me,” Compton said. “I don’t really know how much more I can elaborate on the fact that I’m so lucky and blessed to be this far in my dream. But I have put myself, in my mind, where I am today. So I’m living that.”


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