PINEHURST, N.C. -- Erik Compton had come too far to surrender to a golf course that spent the weekend beating up the best players in the world. He was on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open, stuck in the sand and trying desperately to finish under par, when he let Pinehurst No. 2 know that it had finally picked a fight with the wrong guy.
Compton's fellow competitor, Henrik Stenson, would call this 155-foot bunker shot the nastiest in the game, an in-between distance that can reduce a pro to a sorry weekend hacker. But near the end of Martin Kaymer's runaway victory, Compton wanted second place, and a score in red numbers, as much as he wanted to pull off an upset victory for the ages at the start of the round.
So he landed that bunker shot 7 feet from the pin, and the overflow crowd around the clubhouse green and in the bleachers responded with a standing ovation. Compton waved his black cap to the fans, slapped Stenson's extended hand, and then went about the business of nailing down his par.
There would be no doubt on this one. After undergoing two heart transplant surgeries, and after traveling a long road of mini-tours all over North America, Erik Compton wasn't about to miss a U.S. Open putt that would give him a tie for second place, a score of 1-under 279, and an invitation to next spring's Masters.
He pumped his fist when the ball fell into the hole, swung his right arm, hugged his caddie Victor Billskoog, and waved his cap again in acknowledgment of one last standing O.
Who cares if he ended up 8 shots behind Kaymer, maybe the next great winner in golf?
"I hit the world's worst shot into the green and then got up and down," Compton said. "So when you have disabilities or you have health issues, some days are really bad and then you've got to try to make the best of it the next day and wake up and move your body. And I'm a perfect example of that.
"I've been on my back twice and I never thought I would ever leave the house. Now I just finished second at the U.S. Open."
Sam Snead never did better than that.
"I think I showed the world today that I'm capable of playing good golf under extreme pressure and heat," Compton said.
He showed the world a whole lot more, too.
In any other year, this U.S. Open would have been just another blowout. Just another bore. But the game within the game -- Compton's battle to stay near the top of the leaderboard -- made for a riveting drama to all fans of the human condition.
This was the most amazing near-miss at a major since a 59-year-old Tom Watson almost won the Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009, when he stood in the 18th fairway one par away from history.
At age 34 and with no PGA Tour victories to his name, Compton had arrived at Pinehurst as a study in courage and perseverance. As a young boy, he'd assured everyone he would grow up to be a star athlete, a prediction he stuck with after he was diagnosed at age 9 with viral cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart that diminishes its ability to pump blood.
"Even when I got wheeled out of the operating room, and they have it on camera," he recalled, "I said I would be a professional baseball player."