In My Opinion

Fowler: Golfer Erik Compton's heart beats for cause of a lifetime

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comMay 1, 2013 

ERIK_COMPTON_03

Erik Compton smiles as he answers questions from children during a Youth Exhibition at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Compton is among the golfers preparing to compete in the Wells Fargo Championship.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

Erik Compton’s first heart transplant came in 1992, when he was only 12. That heart lasted 16 years. Then Compton nearly died in 2008 and ended up getting a second heart transplant.

Now he is 33 and, amazingly, one of the best golfers in the world. Ranked No. 70 in the FedEx Cup standings, Compton is playing in the Wells Fargo Championship this week in Charlotte and simultaneously championing the cause of organ donation.

It is a difficult balancing act. He is having the best season of his life, including four Top 25 finishes and one tie for fourth. But he has yet to win in his PGA Tour career. To make it to the weekend is no sure thing – he has missed the cut in his past three events.

Compton sometimes beats himself up a little when he doesn’t play well. That’s partly because he’s a dogged competitor and partly because he knows if he ever does achieve a breakthrough win on the PGA Tour, the corresponding publicity for his chosen cause (www.DonateLife.net) would resonate well beyond the world of sports.

“If I were to win the U.S. Open with my heart the way it is, that’s going to be a big story,” he said. “Subconsciously I’m sometimes harder on myself because I want to do something big – something to take my own story beyond where it is right now.”

Every morning and evening, Compton takes medication to ensure that his body doesn’t reject his heart. While he knows he is lucky to play golf for a job – and to have a wife and their 4-year-old daughter waiting at home for him in south Florida – he must also live with the knowledge that at some point down the road a third heart transplant may be necessary.

Laughed Compton: “Would I rather be some cool surfer guy like Adam Scott – a good-looking guy who won the Masters and now he’s known for that? Sure I would. But that’s not the hand I’ve been dealt.”

A former All-American at Georgia, Compton has played at Quail Hollow Club once before, in 2012. He missed the cut with two straight 75s.

He said the course is great but “doesn’t really fit my eye” and that last time he had trouble with his shots off the tee. At 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Compton generally makes his money with his short game.

He is not a star in his sport and doesn’t pretend to be. He has knocked around in golf’s minor leagues for most of the past decade.

This is only his second full year on the PGA Tour, and he got here by hitting tens of thousands of golf balls and managing his health wisely. When the heart that beats inside your chest is the third one of your life and your immune system is always vulnerable, you had better do that.

“Every day is a constant grind,” he said, “because of the emotional aspect of what I’ve gone through and the future. But when I’m on the golf course, I just think about playing golf. As for the guys who do know me, I think there are about half who think I’m a jerk and half who probably love me. It’s just like any other business, right?”

Compton was diagnosed with a viral form of cardiomyopathy at age 9. His heart had difficulty pumping blood. His first transplant came in 1992 in his hometown of Miami.

He got his second transplant five years ago, also in Miami, after suffering a heart attack. There were serious questions about whether he would ever play competitive golf again.

That heart came from a young man whose family was from Ohio. The man had been visiting Miami and died in a motorcycle accident. Compton and the man’s family have been in touch since the transplant.

“They’re a great family,” he said. “They are well aware of what I’m doing and I’m aware of how they’re doing.”

As for Compton, he would love to be known for more than being the golfer who had two heart transplants. But increasing donor awareness will always be a significant issue for him.

“I’ve lived with this basically my whole life,” he said. “Like all of us, I’m just trying to make the best of my situation as I can.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

To learn more about organ and tissue donation or about Erik Compton, visit donatelife.net or ErikCompton.com.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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