First-round co-leader a medical marvel
He's even gotten comfortable with it, to a great extent.
But he experienced something Thursday with which he could get more comfortable - the lead in a PGA Tour event. The 30-year-old from Miami fired a 7-under-par 63 to share the lead midway after the first round of the Greenbrier Classic.
Play was delayed by weather, and those with afternoon tee times had their rounds interrupted. But Compton, who played in the final group of the morning shift, was safely in the clubhouse with his big round.
And keep this in mind: He started 2-over after three holes. He bogeyed the second when mud got on his ball and was victimized by the third green's "Valley of Sin," resulting in another bogey. So he went 9 under in the final 15 holes.
"I'm just happy that I finally got off to a good start in a PGA tournament," he said. "It's something I've been waiting for and looking forward to."
It's a medical miracle that he has a golf tournament or anything else to eagerly anticipate. Compton was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle is inflamed and unable to pump blood as hard as it should. A transplanted heart came from a teenage girl killed by a drunken driver.
Compton's life seemed tenuous at best, but he took up golf and excelled. After his All-American career at the University of Georgia, he turned pro in 2001. Some of his best success came on the Canadian Tour, and he captured the Hassan II Golf Trophy tournament in Morocco and won twice on the NGA Hooters Tour.
On the Nationwide Tour, he posted two of his 13 career top-25 finishes in the 2005 and 2006 Pete Dye Classics. His best finish was a second in a 2004 tournament in Wichita, Kan., and he led after the first round of the Alberta Classic that year.
That all came to a halt in 2008, when he started feeling chest pains and numbness in his left arm during a fishing trip. He walked into the emergency room and collapsed.
He had another heart transplant, the organ coming from a victim of a hit-and-run accident in Florida. He had accepted that his golf career was over, even selling his equipment.
But he got married, started a family and even returned to golf. He didn't make the cut, but his rounds were well chronicled and he became an even greater advocate for the cause of transplants and organ donation.
"It's been great that the tournament directors and people have taken an interest in my story," Compton said. "And being able to help the community, visit the hospitals and do whatever I can for the kids, it's amazing how many people have reached out to me that have disabilities, that have lost loved ones, have been organ donors and recipients."
Compton is playing his 24th career PGA Tour event, seventh this year. Five of those have come on a sponsor's exemption. The U.S. Open is the sixth, and he fought through a Monday qualifier to get in another field. He has made four cuts, with a high finish of 30th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Orlando, Fla., and has earned $65,785.
A gardening buff who appreciates this area's Norwegian Spruce trees, he was working around his house last Saturday when his latest invitation came. His tee times - last of the morning Thursday and last of everybody in today's second round - testify to his limited status among more established pros. Monday qualifiers and local entrants (Barry Evans, Jonathan Bartlett) play among the later groups.
But Compton played the final 15 holes as if he's a top-10 player, finishing the front nine with birdies on Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 9, then starting the back nine with four birdies on Nos. 10-14. He then nearly buried an eagle shot from the green-like swale behind No. 17. He made a strong bid for a 62, but his birdie putt on No. 18 just slid past the hole.
Compton brought along Victor Billskoog as his caddy. Billskoog is a recent graduate of Miami's Barry University who is gunning for "Q school" this fall.
"His brother caddied for me when I won the tournament in Morocco," Compton said. "He just turned pro, and every time we play he puts pressure on me. I feel like if he's out there, he can see how the guys on the tour play. I know if was as strong as him, I would probably be a lot better."
Compton feels fine, but he acknowledges the daily rigors of walking around a golf course must be monitored. Indeed, his playing schedules may forever be defined by the severity of terrain and other walking factors.
Old White may be surrounded by mountains, but it's not nearly as taxing to walk as many other pro venues.
"Doral was a great event to play; it was very flat," he said. "I think this is an extraordinary event due to the ... the whole place is awesome. The setup here from when you go to the room and getting shuttled to the golf course, you're not having to look around and walk miles to get to your car."
Compton is trying to earn enough prize money to qualify for at least the Nationwide Tour in 2011, if not the big tour. A victory this week ...
Not so fast; there are 54 holes to go. But even if Compton falls off the leader board, he has his genuine admirers. That begins with the man carrying his bag this week.
"I've told him on numerous occasions that he is the biggest inspiration, when it comes to golf - and life," said Billskoog. "He's such a great story, coming from the depths he came from.
"When he was 12, his doctor told him he wasn't going to live until he was 18. Sure enough, when he was 19 he was already a two-time All-American. When I get down on myself and I start thinking about how hard I have it, I think back to one of my best friends, I think about Erik, his remarkable story."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.