PINEHURST, N.C. -- Eli Compton hears often from the parents who helped save her son's life. Jeff and Lillian Klosterman message her on Facebook, and sometimes they talk about life, about their kids, about the incredible gift they gave Eli's boy six years ago, when Erik Compton wasn't sure he would ever attend another U.S. Open, never mind win one.
The Klostermans' 26-year-old son Isaac was an organ donor killed in a hit-and-run accident while riding his motorcycle on a Florida vacation in 2008, and his heart would become Erik's heart. It was a proud athlete's heart, too; Isaac was once a volleyball player at the University of Dayton, and now the very reason why his father will be pulling for Compton to score the big Father's Day upset at Pinehurst.
"Tell Erik to go for it," was the note Eli Compton said she received Friday from Jeff Klosterman. "We're so proud."
Tied for second place at 3-under, 5 shots behind Martin Kaymer, Compton has a chance to write the greatest golf story ever told. At 34, he has never won a PGA Tour event. Of far greater consequence, he has survived not one heart transplant surgery, but two.
He was 9 years old when diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart that prevents it from pumping blood at a life-sustaining rate. At age 12, Erik received the heart of a teenage girl named Jannine who had been killed by a drunk driver.
Sixteen years later, when Jannine's heart gave out, Isaac's took its place. He'd been riding his motorcycle toward West Palm Beach when a pick-up truck crashed into him from the rear.
"It was such a tragedy for that family," Eli said of the Klostermans. "But as the mother Lillian said, 'It's a gift. It's Erik's heart now. It's not ours, it's his.' "
Compton needed it Saturday to shoot a 3-under 67 on an angry bear of a golf course, one of only two scores under par in the third round. And when it was over, Eli Compton stood behind the Pinehurst clubhouse and remembered the day her son called her to say he was about to die.
This was in the fall of 2007, and Erik Compton was driving away from a course in the Miami area when he believed he was suffering a heart attack so severe that he wouldn't be able to complete his frantic detour to the nearest hospital.
Erik was struggling to breathe, struggling to manage the intense pain. He decided to phone his loved ones to say his goodbyes.
"Mom," he told Eli, "I'm not going to make it."
She ordered him to stop and call 911, but Erik kept driving in what he thought would be a lost race against time.
"And then he managed to get into the emergency room," Eli said. "He was coughing up blood and they asked for his insurance card."
Eli laughed a bit at the absurdity of it all. She recalled that she was in a meeting at her home with committee members of a transplant organization when her son made the call.
"I have to go to the hospital," she told the committee members. "Erik is dying."
One of the organization's officials, a police officer, told Eli she was in no condition to drive and raced her off to the hospital, zigging and zagging through traffic on the way.
"Thank God I got there and I could see him before they closed the curtains," Erik's mother said, "because they said to me, 'You shouldn't look at him.'"