For Erik Compton, there's more than golf at the heart of the matter

Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton to play at Northern Trust Open

Erik Compton is likely the only pro golfer who arranges his touring schedule around hospital visits.

Don't misunderstand.

He did not enter the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club this week just because of its proximity to a world-class medical facility.

"I think if you ask 100 tour pros, they would all say this is in their top three or four courses we play," Compton said Tuesday.

Riviera fits Compton's game and his eye. It's more tightly cropped than a course like Torrey Pines, where a second-day 81 most recently led to a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"Torrey Pines is a bomber's golf course," Compton said. "I'm not a bomber."

Riviera is also filled with nooks, crannies and stories.

Compton finished tied for 25th at the 2011 Northern Trust and eagerly awaits his 8:04 tee time on Thursday morning.

It's also no secret that Riviera, located in Pacific Palisades, is a relatively short hop from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

That drive, to Compton, is as important as his driver.

Compton's daily struggle is unique to any golfer who ever teed up a dimpled ball.

He is the only pro golfer competing with a transplanted heart.

In fact, Compton is working on his third heart.

His life story would be amazing notwithstanding his ability to play elite-level golf.

The fact that a two-time heart transplant recipient also ranks No. 102 in the world puts Compton in a different orbit.

That doesn't stop Compton from thinking he should be making more birdies.

You could tell it bothered him some to follow Bill Haas, the 2012 Northern Trust champion, into the media tent Tuesday.

Compton stood in the back and listened to Haas talk about winning tournaments.

He wishes he had Haas' closing ability.

Compton admitted his golf has been a little shaky of late, as if anyone would think less of him.

"I'm in the press room because of my story," he said.

His hope, at age 35, is to keep raising donor transplant awareness as he also raises his golf game.

He also knows which goal has top priority.

Compton tailors his tour schedule to promote his most important cause. He spent Monday shooting a public-service announcement at Cedars-Sinai.

It was one of several tour stops he'll make as part of "Play Through with Erik Compton," a PGA Tour partner program with Donate Life America.

"We carefully pick our targets for the areas that we want to market … and the hospital here, UCLA, has one of the No. 1 transplant facilities," Compton said.

Compton's pretournament routine includes golf clinics at area hospitals. He visits with patients, doctors and facility coordinators.

And then, starting Thursdays, he sets that aside and tries to beat Bubba Watson.

This isn't anything new to Compton.

"I've been dealing with transplantation and educational awareness since I was 9 years old," he said. "This is who I am. So if I wasn't playing golf, I would still tell my story and still do it. So it's who I am. There's no burden or shame there."

Compton endured his first transplant at 9 because of a condition called viral cardiomyopathy, which inflames the heart and limits its ability to pump blood.

Compton needed another transplant in 2008, at 28. It came after he suffered a heart attack and drove himself to a hospital.

He takes dozens of pills daily to keep his system in check, yet there are days when he doesn't feel up to par.

"I push myself through just about anything," he said. "I'm not a guy that withdraws for no reason. Maybe I'm guilty of overstepping my boundaries and I need to rest."

For Compton, each day is a gift not to be wasted.

He did not let two transplants stop him from attending the University of Georgia and then punching his way through the mini-tour circuit.

It didn't stop him from earning his PGA Tour card, losing it, and gaining it back.

Despite not making his last two cuts, Compton probably doesn't give his game enough credit.

He was a final-round contender at last month's Humana Challenge, won by Haas. Compton finished tied for 10th.

His big breakthrough came last summer when he finished second to Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open.

That earned Compton an invitation to become the first double heart transplant to play in the Masters.

Compton knows why people cheer for him to win.

"It would be a great story," he said. "But I've got to really win for myself. With that said, if it happens, it happens."

Compton still kicks himself for not closing out at the Humana last month.

He also knows that's only one rail in his extraordinary life.

"I'd rather be playing really good golf and sitting here talking about, you know, my next shot," he said. "But that's never going to be the main focus."

Compton does his weekly hospital and golf routine because he has a story to tell. The number of people on transplant waiting lists continue to grow, so Compton's donor campaign has to keep on marching.

He also plays golf because "my ultimate goal out here is to win."

His hope is to someday soon, maybe this week, connect his two passions.

"The reason I'm alive is because of somebody else's gift of life to give me life," Compton said. "But I'm also alive because I have tremendous determination. I'm a tremendous competitor. I don't lay down for anything. I want to be as good as I can be. And, you know, the rest is history."

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
84°