Golfer With Heart Takes Steps Towards PGA

After two heart transplants, golfer makes step toward qualifying for PGA.

Oct. 30, 2008— -- He's had three hearts and more comebacks – on and off the golf course – than he can count.

At age 28, Erik Compton did it again last week. Just five months after his second heart transplant, Compton played in the PGA qualifying tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida. After struggling through the first three days of the tournament, commentators had written him off.

"I woke up in the morning and the Golf channel had said it was so great that I came out to play the tournament after having two heart transplants, but it didn't looks like I was going to make the tournament," Compton said. "And I was kind of eating my cereal and my wife said, 'No you are going to make it. You are going to make it.'"

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And Compton did. Battling gusty winds on the course, he overcame a seven-shot deficit and snagged the final qualifying spot for the PGA tour. He will play in one of four 72-hole tournaments in November, to get one step closer to earning his PGA Tour card.

Compton received his first heart transplant at the young age of 12, but he bounced back quickly, immersing himself in golf. Five years later, he was the nation's top-ranked junior, competing in the Walker Cup in 2001.

Compton became a rising star on the pro circuit until a heart attack forced him to go through a second heart transplant in May.

"It is just like the game of golf," Compton said. "You have to fight for it and if it came easy it wouldn't be gratifying."

His coach, Charlie DeLucca, has been training him since he was a kid and was at Compton's side as he went in for his second surgery.

"Well, he said to me he is going to be the comeback kid," DeLucca said, straining to hold back tears as he remembered the moment. "We were really worried about him, lots more than he worries about himself."

Just weeks after he received his new heart, Compton insisted DeLucca take him out to practice his putting. DeLucca has had his own heart bypass surgery.

"Listen," said DeLucca, "I have had bypass surgery, I had my chest cracked open. I know, it took me 6 months to even wanna putt, much less hit balls. He was putting actually three weeks after he had his heart transplant."

Since his first transplant 16 years ago, Compton's mother, Eli, has devoted her life to promoting organ donation and aiding organ recipients. She is now executive director of the Miami-based Transplant Foundation.

It was his father, Peter Compton, who urged him to take up golf after he was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 9 and doctors told him he could not play contact sports.

Both parents are in awe of their son's resilience.

"Golf is an expression of the 'no quit,' in him," said his father, Peter Compton. "And every time he has had to come around and do something new he has turned his back on the thought of being a quitter or becoming a victim."

His perseverance and positive outlook has inspired his family to live life to the fullest.

"I think I have learned from him to just live life and be happy and wake up every morning and make sure that I enjoy the day," Eli said. "…Just be amazed at everything that comes to you in a day, because that is how he lives his life."