Heart Isn't The Problem For Compton; Game Is

October 22, 2008

Erik Compton got a new heart last May but after two days of the first stage of the PGA Tour qualifying school across the Biscayne Bay from the hospital where he received his transplant, he felt more in need of a new brain. "On the course, I am my own worst enemy," said Compton after his opening rounds of 76-75 on Crandon Golf in Key Biscayne, Fla. I get too caught up in what this is instead of just going out and playing. That's why I've been the king of minor league events. It's a mindset. Even after the transplant and all the stuff I've been through, I still come out to the course as the same person--a nut bag."

But a nut bag with a future. Just a few months ago, before Compton had his second heart transplant on May 20, his future was being measured in hours, certainly not days and definitely not years. Compton was using a golf cart to get around the 7,354-yard, par-72 Crandon course, once the host for a Champions Tour event won by the likes of Lee Trevino, Larry Nelson and, ironically, David Graham, who struggles now with degenerative heart issues himself. The 28-year-old Compton is the first player since Casey Martin to use a golf cart in a tour-sanctioned event.

"I played on the Nationwide with him," Martin said of Compton. "Every time we saw each other, he'd say, 'Hey, how's your leg?' Good. I'd say, 'Hey how's your heart?' Good. See you. Every time, that's what we did." Thanks to Martin, Compton's road to accessing a golf cart was not nearly as bumpy as Martin's had been. "Once that happened," Martin said of his legal battle with the PGA Tour, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001, "I think now they have a process in place that they can review things like this. He definitely qualified. What were they going to gain by fighting it? They were just going to lose again. Better to do what they did and make it a slam dunk."

Playing with a homemade yardage book in his pocket, the long-hitting Compton only managed two birdies over two days on a course with five par 5s. "I'm just not hitting it good," he says, refusing to make his surgery his excuse. "I'm duck hooking everything. It'll come back. It's just two bad rounds of golf. The worst I could have shot today is what I shot and the worst I could have shot yesterday is what I shot. I'm just not getting anything out of the golf rounds."

Compton played in a one-day mini-tour event two weeks ago and shot 67; last week he shot 65 in a practice round at Crandon. "Everything was going straight then," he says with a shrug. "I've [been playing] very conservative. Hit a lot of irons and ended up making mistakes. I have to execute from the fairway. I only hit four greens today."

Even though he shot three-over-par 75, it was a good day in one respect: It was the first day in 18 years, he'd been off his steroid medication. "I got some blood work back," he said. "They cut it off last night. That's a milestone for me. My muscles will [eventually] be stronger. Actually, it [steroids] destroys your muscle tissue."

Under the best of circumstances, getting through three stages of qualifying school is a long shot. "The chances that somebody from this qualifier will get his card from the PGA Tour is, what, 3 percent?" Compton asks.

His slow start makes the climb only steeper. Chip Sullivan and Cesar Costilla were leading the South Florida qualifier at four-under-par 140. Twenty-three players plus ties will advance to the second stage. Compton's seven-over-par total put him at T-55 but, with bad weather predicted for the next several days, the scoring is certain to get tougher.

"I could shoot three under or four under and still make it, I think," he said. "It's doable. It's not like it's not there. I still think I can qualify. If I get it going, you can shoot 64 out here. You can do it. I just have to get rid of that left shot."

--Jim Moriarty