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Compton continues to shine after whirlwind U.S. Open week

June 18, 2014

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

Compton with recent heart transplant recipient, George Petro, Jr.

CROMWELL, Conn.- If you didn’t know Erik Compton’s story before last week’s U.S. Open, you no doubt know it now.

But, what you don’t know is that with his finish at Pinehurst, he regards himself as merely the “flavor of the week.”

What you don’t know of is the proverbial suit of armor he’s forced to don these days to keep a balance to the life he nearly lost – twice. His life is one which could easily become jilted between the side that works to pay bills and the side that works to pay forward.

What you don’t know of is the seven-year-old, cancer-stricken girl he befriended in a shared hospital when he was nine. What he doesn’t know to this day is whether or not she survived. But, he wonders.

What you don’t know is that when he was laying in the hospital, awaiting his first of two heart transplants, he spent hours scouring a then-developing internet for success stories of transplantation.

What you don’t know is that as he approached his ball, awaiting a putt for par on the 72nd hole of last week’s U.S. Open, he asked not for a read on the line from his caddie, but instead for him to just look around, take in and embrace his surroundings. “I’ve got the putt,” he said. And, he did.

What you don’t know is that 48 hours after that putt dropped, giving him a share of second place with Rickie Fowler, the newly-minted household name did one-on-one interviews at the Travelers Championship with ABC local news, CBS local news, the Connecticut Post, New Haven Register, Hartford Courant, Golf World, Golf Channel, Sirius/XM Radio, CBS Sports Radio, as well as a media center interview to a full house. In each interview, he composed himself as if it was the only request of his time.

In addition, Compton made time that afternoon to take part in the First Tee of Connecticut youth outing, visit two transplant patients in Hartford Hospital downtown and travel an hour to visit a fan and transplant patient in Waterbury, Conn. Both trips had been etched in stone before Pinehurst happened.

What you don’t know is that for more than 22 years, all of this - the downs, the ups, the waiting, the hopes and professional performances - has congealed into an everyday thing for the 34 year-old. An every…day…thing.
“When I was in the hospital the first time, there weren’t any transplant recipients that could come in and let me see new life,” Compton remembered. “If there was, I could’ve seen an end result. It’s hard when you’re in the dungeon and it’s dark and you’re waiting for your transplant. You see no end.”

But, that’s just the thing with Compton. Somewhere along the way, he reconfigured his state of mind to where the doomsday thought of “no end” morphed into a prophetic psalm of salvation. Everything can be a beginning, an everyday thing.

“This is an everyday thing for me, and it’s not just about golf and transplantation,” Compton said. “It’s a story of never giving up. To get up and move forward is what it’s all about. Nobody plans on tragedy. My donor wasn’t planning on tragedy. His family decided to donate his organs, and so he not only saved my life, but six other lives. All I can do is try to relay the message of never give up. That’s all I can do.”

What you don’t know of is the kid in Miami who Compton may have helped years ago see that there need be no settlement for any seeming end. Not, at least, when a life can be an everyday thing.

“When you have hope to offer, you can see how emotional the recipients become. Lives are forever changed when they have something to look forward to,” he said. “I had a little kid in Miami I gave a golf bag to. Nobody could get him to speak. I signed the bag and left it in his room. Now, six years later he loves golf and is trying to go the PGA program. So, you never know the effect you’re going to have on them. It’s just nice to give back and see what can happen.”

What you don’t know is that the most important life-lesson Compton would abide by was one he picked up before the age of 10, through painfully unpleasant circumstances.

“I was beginning to experience physical problems when I was nine. I was in the hospital for a week at a time, being treated with medication,” Compton recalled. “I met a little girl, who was seven, had cancer and was in a wheelchair. I would go get her from her room and roll her around. I knew her parents had left her there. They never came to visit her. She kept saying they would come see her, but they never did. She’d wheel into my room and ask ‘you want to go for a walk.’ I thought that was ironic, because she couldn’t walk. I walked her. It was then when I learned from my parents the importance of connecting with other people who needed help.” 
What you don’t know is what stood out in Colby Salerno’s mind when he first met Compton.

Compton drove to Waterbury, Conn. to see fan and fellow heart transplant patient Colby Salerno.

“The most amazing thing about Erik is that he remembered exactly what hole my friend and I showed up on for the first time to see him and where we traveled from,” Salerno said, who met Compton at the 2013 Travelers Championship. “I remember him not letting me ask one question. Instead, he asked all about my heart transplant, how I was doing and what I was going through. He was the most humble person I’d ever met.”  

“When you look at Erik and what he’s been able to accomplish to make it to the PGA TOUR with the heart issues he’s had, it’s just remarkable,” said Compton’s former University of Georgia roommate Bubba Watson. “With what he’s doing from the platform he can do some great things and keep doing great things. If he keeps playing well, he’s going to have a bigger and bigger platform, bigger than for any of us.”

It’s an everyday thing for Compton. Last week’s finish at Pinehurst is behind the “flavor of the week.”  

“It’s hard for me to understand what happened last week, because I have pushing for organ donation for such a long time. I had a good finish at the U.S. Open, but I won’t know how many people it touches until it settles in and people start recognizing the importance of organ donation. Hopefully, it does.”

With his journey being an everyday thing without an end, he’s got the time now to wait and see that it does just that. That, he now knows.

For more information on organ donation, transplantation and to learn how to become an organ donor, please visit Donate Life America's website at donatelife.net.

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