Erik Compton was leading the Greenbrier Classic after the first round. It’s always news when someone is leading a PGA Tour event but it’s a miracle here: Erik has endured TWO heart transplants. I first met Erik in 1993 when he was 13. He could only make half swings: he was 5’5″ and weighed 240 pounds because he was on heavy steroids after the first heart transplant. He lost weight and became stronger. At 17, he was the #1 junior in the country. He went to Georgia for college because he could be close to Emory University School of Medicine where he could get treatment. He rose to become the #2 college golfer in the country.
One of his roommates was Bubba Watson.
Erik made the Walker Cup team; the Walker Cup is a bi-annual match where the best amateurs in the United States play the best amateur golfers from Europe. In Erik’s final match, he was down then birdied 8 of the next 12 holes to win his match 5&3. He played well on the Canadian Tour as a professional and was leading money winner. He got his distance back through hard work and some tough talk from me; things were looking up. Then, in 2007, he had a heart attack.
On his way to the hospital he called me to say goodbye…he thought he was dying.
He drove himself to Jackson Memorial Hospital south Florida and collapsed at the front door. The doctors kept him alive but he needed a new heart. He was on a list to get a new heart, but it’s complex. Where are you on the list? Can they get the heart to you in time? Do you have the same blood type? And on and on. It looked bleak.
I was in San Diego at a Padres game when Erik called to tell me a new heart was available: a young man had been killed in an auto accident not far away in Palm Beach. He was immediately going in for another heart transplant.
“I’ll see you with a new heart in a few days,” I said.
The 15-hour operation was successful. The doctors, not surprisingly, said pro golf was out of the question. When I visited Erik he was extremely weak. We talked seriously about other things he could do in life.
Months passed and one day Erik showed up at my golf school at Doral. He said he had started playing golf. He was hitting his driver about 200 yards, but was having fun. I was amazed at his great attitude about playing. About 2 months later he played in a one day small event with local pros; he shot 66 and won it. He was now driving the ball about 250 yards. And so it went until he got an exemption to the PGA Tour event at Disney. Less than a year out of a heart transplant he made the cut! I went up to be there…amazing is very understated.
Since then Erik has received other invites to tour events and has made almost every cut. Jack Nicklaus has invited him each year to Muirfield Village for The Memorial and Erik has always made the cut. His problem has been the stamina to go all four rounds. But he has gotten stronger.
This year I focused a lot of attention on helping Erik qualify for the US Open. Sure enough he did it, shooting 69, 66 and then winning a playoff for a spot. Wow. the US Open!!!! The attention he received at Pebble Beach was incredible and of course well-deserved. Even though he had done so many miraculous things before the US Open, many golfers were not aware of what he had been through. NBC and Bryant Gumbel did a special on HBO with Erik, which is still showing.
Now he shoots 63 and is leading a PGA Tour event. Another big WOW.
I have worked with Erik for 17 years and know how good he is. I know the things he has to deal with concerning his health, and the disadvantages he has competing against the greatest players in the world. Yet he has unbelievable talent and perfect mechanics…plus an unbelievable spirit. I can’t wait to watch the golf today.