Erik Compton's story is still being written
DORAL, Fla. -- This is his hometown event, and it burns Erik Compton to not be here. In another time, he would absolutely have teed it up in the annual PGA Tour stop at Doral. That was when he had a different heart.
Back then Compton, now 33, was getting sponsor exemptions to play at Doral. He was a college golfer at Georgia or early in his pro career, playing golf, remarkably, despite a heart transplant that was necessary when he was just 12 years old.
Now, nearly five years after a second heart transplant, Compton is coming off his best finish on the PGA Tour, a tie for fourth at the Honda Classic that had him fuming about his final-hole bogey and fighting to move beyond his story.
And yet, it's all but impossible to do.
"It's hard for me to get too sentimental about it, because I've turned the corner on my story and I really want to be one of the top 50 players in the world," Compton said. "And I have the game to do it."
Compton is stubborn that way. He sees no reason he can't compete with the game's elite, despite the dozens of medications he must take each day in order to survive, the ones that sometimes mess with his equilibrium or make it tough to sleep or any number of issues that come with having somebody else's heart in his body.
It is a story that really doesn't get old, and Compton has handled the attention that comes with it quite well. He'd prefer to talk about his golf, but being a transplant recipient and increasing donor awareness will always be part of the deal for him.
How could it not? Five years ago he nearly died, having driven himself to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital after suffering a heart attack. Along the way, he called family and friends to say goodbye, in case he didn't make it.
The heart he had been given as a teenager was no longer functioning properly, meaning he would need another transplant, something that is never assured. Among the numerous drugs he takes now are ones to make sure his body does not reject the heart.
"It's a miracle to see him out there," said Compton's longtime instructor Jim McLean, who teaches at Doral. "In 2008, it wasn't looking good for him for a while. And after it [the transplant surgery] was over, the doctors said he would never play golf again. Every week he plays golf is a win for Erik." Amazingly, Compton was back playing golf that fall and even attempted to earn his PGA Tour card. Due to his physical condition, he was granted use of a golf cart and made it through the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying.
There have been some ups and downs since, including a victory on the Nationwide Tour and a PGA Tour card in 2012, which he failed to earn enough money to keep. But Compton got it back at Q-School and here he is again.
"I remember when I was a kid, my dad pulled me out of the car, we were on our way to an AJGA [American Junior Golf Association] event, and he asked if I wanted to feel sorry for myself the rest of my life," Compton recalled. "So I think my persistence comes from my dad [Peter]. I still hear his voice, like on the last hole [at Honda].
"Even when I was sick [in 2008] and thought I was never going to play golf again, he was still talking about golf and I thought he was crazy because I thought it was over with. I think I get a lot from him for that."
If Compton were part of the top 50 in the world, the place he feels he belongs, he'd be at Doral this week for the WGC-Cadillac Invitational. For years, this was a regular stop on the PGA Tour, one that Compton would be in based either on his top-10 finish last week or his priority status at Q-School.
Instead, he's in Puerto Rico for the opposite field event before heading to the Tampa Bay Championship next week, looking to improve his position on the money list, FedEx Cup point list and world ranking, where he is currently 274th.
And it is still a learning process for Compton, especially as it relates to putting too much pressure on himself.
"He's really come to grips with his impatience on the golf course," McLean said. "I think he definitely had a sense of urgency -- who knows how long he was going to be able to do this? But he has matured and I think he has a sense of calmness about him now."
Anchoring debate rages on
The three-month comment period is complete, and the opinions among many around the world are now coming forth as it relates to the proposed anchored putting ban put forth in November by the United States Golf Association and the R&A, golf's governing bodies.
The PGA Tour, specifically commissioner Tim Finchem, caused quite a stir when the commissioner went on national television and made it clear he felt the USGA should go back on its proposal and allow players to anchor. But so far, his is the only tour on record in that fashion.
While LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan has made comments suggesting the circuit supports the rules-making duties of the USGA, others have been stronger. This week European Tour chief George O'Grady expressed his circuit's support for the R&A, as has the Ladies European Tour and the Sunshine Tour.
The Sunshine Tour's Selwyn Nathan explained that the tour respects "the bodies who are tasked with the sometimes unenviable job of making changes to the Rules of Golf from time to time."
O'Grady suggested it was more of an "American problem," pointing out that the European Tour -- and European amateur golf in general -- has very few players who used an anchored stroke.
The debate promises to continue. The USGA and R&A have promised a final decision sometime in the spring.
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1. Michael Thompson. From nowhere to the winner's circle. Thompson's win at the Honda also got him into this week's WGC event at Doral.
2. Geoff Ogilvy. He had missed four straight cuts and dropped to 79th in the world. His runner-up finish at Honda gets him in Doral and with a chance to get into the Masters.
3. Erik Compton. His story has been told many times, but it's still remarkable to think what he's accomplished after a heart transplant. His tie for fourth at the Honda was his best ever on the PGA Tour.
2. Tiger Woods. He was unable to break par in any round at Honda, a tournament where he contended a year ago.
3. Brandt Snedeker. The rib injury is clearly an issue as he is now skipping his second WGC event after winning at Pebble Beach.
Geoff Ogilvy made a big move to get back into the Masters with his second-place finish at the Honda Classic, jumping to 47th in the world. But his place is far from secure. The top 50 not otherwise exempt as of March 31 will get a Masters invite and Ogilvy hopes to extend his consecutive majors streak to 32.
But there are many players in and around the top 50 who are not yet in the field, including Fredrik Jacobson (48), Richard Sterne (52), Marcus Fraser (56), Henrik Stenson (58), Alexander Noren (59), Thongchai Jaidee (60), Rafael Cabrera Bello (61), Stephen Gallacher (62), Chris Wood (63), Luke Guthrie (64), Shane Lowry (65), Charles Howell III (66), Richie Ramsay (67) and Marcel Siem (70).
As Ogilvy proved, a strong week can get the job done. He moved from 79th to 47th by finishing second. And the fields the next three weeks on the PGA Tour are strong, with an abundance of world ranking points.
Brandt Snedeker, due to injury, is the only player among the top 50 in the world not competing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. ... The tee times feature the top 25 in the world (excluding Snedeker) in groups of three. Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald are grouped together for the first two rounds. ... In 11 of 12 official PGA Tour events on American soil since the Ryder Cup -- including all since the start of 2013 -- Americans have won. Only Sweden's Jonas Blixt in Las Vegas breaks the string. ... After becoming the first American to win LPGA player of the year honors since Beth Daniel in 1994, Stacy Lewis is building on her 2012 season. She won for the sixth time on the LPGA Tour with her victory at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. She is No. 3 in the world rankings. ... Former top amateur Patrick Cantlay won his first Web.com Tour event at the Colombia Championship, giving him a good head start on securing his PGA Tour card for 2014. This week he plays in the Puerto Rico Championship on a sponsor exemption. ... Next week's Tampa Bay Championship, formerly sponsored by Transitions, has secured a presenting sponsor in EverBank, the company that has title sponsorship rights for the NFL stadium in Jacksonville. It is a one-year deal and it is unclear if the tournament is trying to secure EverBank to a long-term sponsorship commitment. ... Due to the uncertainty of the Tampa Bay event, tournament directors for the first part of the 2014 schedule are not being allowed to announce their tournament dates. There is a feeling that if Tampa Bay does not secure title sponsorship, each tournament will move back a week.
"It really kind of solidifies in my mind that I'm one of the guys now, and that's a special feeling.'' -- Michael Thompson after capturing his first PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic.