Compton continues to show his strength
WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Erik Compton says his heart is strong. It’s his mentor, Charlie DeLucca, he worries about. DeLucca, 70, suffered his third heart attack on October 31. He now has 16 stents.
“He’s done so much for me,” Compton said. “I’d like to get my (PGA Tour) card so he can see me play.”
Compton, 31, a two-time heart transplant recipient, is at it again, back at the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School for the first time since 2001. His dream is very real now, which led DeLucca to impart this pre-tournament pep talk: “Quit messing around and get it done already,” he implored.
PGA Qualifying School (Rd. 1)
The first round of PGA Tour Qualifying School got underway Wednesday at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Fla., as 162 players try to secure a spot on the PGA Tour in 2011.
Compton was following orders, leading the tournament at 4-under after 11 holes in the first round of the 108-hole marathon, but stumbled on the home stretch and finished at 1-under on the Panther Lake Course at Orange County National. Despite the sloppy finish, he took it in stride.
“Anything under par was a good round,” Compton said. “They don’t hand out cards today, do they?”
More than three years have passed since Compton ran red lights and a toll booth on the way to the hospital where he suffered his own heart attack. After his second heart failed him, Compton gave away most of his golf clubs. He didn’t think he would ever need them again. Most of his peers had already made it to the Tour and several had achieved success. Jim McLean, who coached Compton for many years, recalled a conversation they had when Compton was in the hospital in 2008 and feeling a bit sorry for himself. “He said how disappointed he was in himself that he hadn’t played the Tour yet full-time. I said, ‘Are you kidding me? What you’ve done, to get out on Nationwide, the tournaments you’ve won. I don’t want you to talk like that at all. Don’t think you’re a failure.’ He’s a huge winner. He’s a miracle.”
It seemed miraculous when five months after undergoing his second heart transplant, there was Compton back at Q-School chasing his impossible dream. Not everyone was on board with the decision. His family and friends thought he rushed back too soon. As he often does, Compton proved everyone wrong.
“I told him, ‘Man don’t ever go back to the PGA Tour. Just be a fisherman, relax. Avoid the stress.’ But that’s not Erik,” said childhood friend Dominick Fraser in 2008. “Three freaking hearts and he’s qualifying for the PGA Tour. I’m just blown away.”
Compton took a cart that week but his wife, five months pregnant, walked every step of the way. Now he says he’s stronger than ever. When asked where wife Barbara and daughter Petra were this week, he flashed a wicked smile and answered: “This is no place for women and children.”
For a guy whose heart always is racing, the golf course is a strange place to feel most at peace. Compton thrives on the pressure, the sweaty palms and knot in the throat. He even had the gall to call Q-School fun, a description possibly never before associated with golf’s annual torture chamber.
“I like the challenge,” he said. “I have a totally different approach now. When I was younger, I was aloof. I had no organization, no plan. I just was beating myself up, practicing and playing. I didn’t understand what my goals should be.”
Now his confidence is high after making five of seven cuts on the Tour, and cruising through the first two stages of Q-School. His length has returned. He realizes the importance of rest. And he can wax philosophical that if he doesn’t make it, he “won’t be crushed.”
“You get to the point in my situation where there’s two ways of looking at life,” Compton told me once. “You’re walking on a golf course and there are a whole bunch of ants. Eventually the ants are going to get stepped on and killed, right? Or you can believe that you’re that special ant that has a ways to keep going. I choose to look at it that way. I’m always at the right place at the right time.”
And special indeed.