Compton still playing golf, 30 years after 1st transplant

Feb 24, 2022, 10:47 AM | Updated: Feb 25, 2022, 2:08 pm
Erik Compton hits from the 18th tee during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Th...

Erik Compton hits from the 18th tee during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Erik Compton is going to have a great Saturday, even without playing golf.

He didn’t make the cut at the Honda Classic, meaning he won’t be playing a third round at PGA National.

Instead, he’ll have to settle for it being the 30th anniversary of his getting a second chance at life.

The date was Feb. 26, 1992, when Compton — then 12 — got the first of two heart transplants, needed after he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart becomes inflamed and cannot effectively pump blood. He has fought and fought and fought since, and an opening round of 1-under 69 at the Honda Classic on Thursday was yet another reminder that he’s made a career out of defying absurdly long odds.

And Friday’s second round of 12-over was a reminder of how tough things can be for Compton.

“I’ve got more pressure experience in my life in the field combined,” Compton said.

Those words weren’t hyperbole, and certainly don’t just apply to him playing golf. He likes to say he’s been dead, twice. He drove himself to a hospital after having a heart attack in 2007, seven months before his second transplant in May 2008. He has been told multiple times that his sports career was over, multiple times that he could no longer play competitive golf.

He’s still here. Still playing. Still fighting.

And on Saturday, still celebrating, even without playing.

“Obviously, 30 is going to be a big milestone,” Compton said. “I’ve always celebrated the date of my second transplant and my first transplant. You honor the donor, just all the achievements that have happened through the years.”

The 42-year-old from Miami has been a pro golfer since 2001. He usually plays on the Korn Ferry Tour these days; he has made one PGA Tour cut in only four tries since 2016 and was playing the Honda this week on a sponsor’s exemption.

He has never won on the PGA Tour; his best finish was a tie for second at the 2014 U.S. Open, the big spark in a year in which he earned $1.8 million — almost half of his $4.1 million in career PGA Tour earnings.

“I’m hungry,” Compton said. “A lot of guys that are my age maybe aren’t necessarily as hungry because they’ve made a lot more money than I have. I’ve had a pretty solid career, but compared to a lot of guys I haven’t made the amount of dollars. So, it keeps you hungry. … And I don’t see why I can’t continue to keep chasing my dream.”

With the hunger, there’s also belief. It may have wavered a bit in recent years, but it’s still there.

Compton says he feels great, having just dropped 20 pounds. His clubhead speed and ball speed, he insists, are good enough for him to compete with the best. A solid round Friday would have meant a spot on the weekend, which would have meant a check, maybe even a chance to contend.

Instead, it’s back to the grind. That’s how it goes for Compton. And he’s thankful for it.

“There’s been times where it’s been tough in the last few years,” Compton said. “I love to play, but there’s been some people who’ve stepped up and made it possible for me to keep playing. So, I’m making a big push this year and that’s just what I’m trying to do, put one foot in front of the other.”


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Compton still playing golf, 30 years after 1st transplant