For his entire golfing career, Erik Compton has been a heart transplant recipient who played golf.
After his runner-up finish in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Compton may have finally become a golfer who has underdone two heart transplants.
Ever since his days as one of the country’s top junior golfers in the late 1990s, almost everything written and said about Compton has revolved around his medical situation.
Compton underwent his first heart transplant procedure at the age of 12 in 1992 and needed a second transplant in 2008. His determination to pursue a professional career has drawn considerable attention over the years, but almost all of that attention has focused on the medical hurdles he has had to overcome.
Along with battles with his health, Compton spent more than a decade pursuing his goal of becoming a fully exempt PGA Tour player, something that seemed a foregone conclusion after a successful career in junior, collegiate and amateur golf.
Within a few years after his first heart transplant, Compton was ranked among the country’s top junior golfers and joined the University of Georgia golf team after the Bulldogs won the national championship in 1999.
Compton, a native of Coral Gables, Fla., played for the Bulldogs for two seasons and was part of one of the most successful teams in school history.
The 2000-01 Georgia team was the first in NCAA history with five players selected as first, second or third team All-Americans. Compton, who earned third team All-America status as a freshman, was a second team selection as a sophomore.
The Bulldogs won a school-record six tournaments that season, with the team’s lineup so strong that two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson did not make a single appearance his entire senior season among the team’s five starters.
Compton was selected for the 2001 Palmer Cup and Walker Cup teams, and turned pro after two seasons with the Bulldogs following the Walker Cup at Sea Island’s Ocean Forest Golf Club. He scored one college victory during his two years in Athens and shared the school’s career scoring record when he left for the pros.
In his first visit to Q-school, Compton reached the finals but did not play well, beginning his first full year as a pro with limited status on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour.
Compton spent the next decade as an itinerant tour player. He was unable to qualify for the PGA Tour and spent a few seasons playing full time on the Nationwide Tour, only one of which could be considered a success.
Most of Compton’s success early in his career came on the Canadian Tour, where he won three times and was the tour’s Player of the Year in 2004. He came close to his first Nationwide Tour win that year, losing in a playoff in Wichita.
Compton also won on the Hooters Tour, as well as the Hassan II Trophy, at the time an unofficial tournament in Morocco whose list of champions include names like Vijay Singh, Payne Stewart, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, David Toms, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els.
After a strong showing on the Nationwide Tour in 2006, Compton struggled throughout ’07 and underwent his second heart transplant the next year. He made it back to the finals of Q-school in 2010 to earn status on the Nationwide Tour, and a victory in the Mexico Open enabled him to finish high enough on the money list to finally move up to the PGA Tour for the 2012 season.
Thanks mostly to sponsor exemptions, Compton played 30 PGA Tour events before becoming a member. But his first full season in golf’s major leagues did not go particularly well, and he was back at Q-school at the end of the year. He retained his status with a top-10 finish and this time was able to avoid Q-school, ending the regular season 117th in FedExCup points and finishing 99th in the final standings.
A tie for 4th in the 2013 Honda Classic was Compton’s best career finish prior to his tie for 2nd in the U.S. Open, with a pair of top-5 finishes at Bay Hill and in New Orleans placing him in position to retain his status for 2015 before his breakthrough at Pinehurst.
Compton’s tie for 2nd earned him a return trip to the U.S. Open next year, along with his first ever invitation to the Masters. He vaulted from 84th to 43rd in the FedExCup standings and from 187 to 73 in the World Golf Rankings, guaranteeing him a spot in the 2014 PGA Championship and giving him a shot at qualifying for the Tour Championship at East Lake.
“I go from where I was a few years ago and now I’m able to play in major championships,” Compton said after runner-up finish. “I think I showed the world that I’m capable of playing good golf under extreme pressure and heat. And I think I showed myself.
“I don’t have anything to really prove to anybody any more. If I never played golf again for the rest of my life, I think I have made my mark in this game.”