Virginia Golfer May / June 2015 - Page 28

Erik Compton has been on the precipice of death, but has realized dreams while playing on the PGA Tour. Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton’s battle has emboldened his perspective by KEN KLAVON H ow do you measure the beat of a heart? What is its value, its incalculable worth? How about determining the will to live and making an indelible mark? And how about being in the Grim Reaper’s crosshairs, not once, but twice? Hyperbole? Ask Erik Compton, a twotime heart transplant recipient, if it’s an overstatement. His story exploded in 2010, first at the U.S. Open, and then at The Greenbrier Classic. He finished 73rd at Greenbrier but shared the first round lead with Matt Every after blistering The Old White TPC course for a 63. It may have been the most important score of his life, because it afforded Compton’s story to develop far-reaching tentacles. Not only did it signify his courageous comeback as a professional golfer, but it underscored his work with organ donor facilitators, such as Transplant Foundation and Donate Life America. Compton intends to play the upcoming Greenbrier Classic (July 2-5) again. He has registered to play every year except last season due to a heavy lead-up schedule that turned out to be too much. Compton loves the welcoming atmosphere that the resort presents to the players and their families. In terms of the course layout, 26 V I R G I N I A G O L F E R | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 26_VSGA_MayJune15.indd 26 the easy walk between teeing grounds is appealing. “I don’t think it’s a terribly difficult golf course compared to the ones we normally play,” he says. “Obviously scores can be pretty low there. But I think it’s a challenging course and it’s fun. There are definitely some holes that play tricky if you’re not careful with the undulations on the greens and stuff. It’s not one of the longer courses we play on tour, but it definitely shows who is playing the best that week.” UNCOMMON DETERMINATION Funny enough, with the way he’d been playing as of early May, the prospect of Compton registering a win is not out of the question. Five years ago, with the cards of life dealing him near busts, he couldn’t say the same thing. Imagine at age 9, an age of innocence and dreams, being told in medical vernacular that viral cardiomyopathy—an enlarging of the heart that restricts it from pumping blood— would likely lead to a transplant. Less than three years later a new heart would arrive. It was a gift from a 15-year-old girl killed by a drunk driver. Months after the transplant he came to the realization that playing baseball and football, his first loves, wasn’t feasible. Instead, golf would be taken up as a form of rehabilitative therapy. It re-established dreams and motivated him. He soon took out the crayons and drew a picture of himself one day playing in the Masters. Heck, why not dream big? “This game is obviously not football, baseball, tennis or something like that where you are running often,” says Sergio Garcia, who knows Compton from playing on the tour together. “But it is the kind of game that also takes a big toll on your body, your heart in some cases, and your head.” In 2007, Compton’s head was filled with confusion after flying home to Florida. He had missed a Nationwide Tour cut in Boise, Idaho, and there was no reason to stick around. Back in Florida, he was driving alone when severe chest pain forced him to an emergency room. Unsure what had occurred, Compton suffered a heart attack, which rendered his heart to just 15-20 percent working capacity. The situation so dour, Compton managed to call family to say goodbye. Doctors were able to put in a pacemaker and defibrillator, but they were transitory in buying him some time. Heart transplants lasted about 15 years then and he had exhausted about that much out of the one put in at age 12. Doctors told him he’d need a second transplant. For six months, the constant waiting was torturous, leading to a brief existential crisis. He often worried whether his heart would just shut down, but he managed to play some golf, winning a local pro-am. Word of a forthcoming heart came. Ohionative Isaac Klosterman, a strong believer in organ donation, had been killed in a MATTHIAS CLAMER The Face of Courage w w w. v s g a . o r g 5/8/15 11:45 AM