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Has heart to live dream

2nd transplant gives Compton shot at chasing tour titles

By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

January 12, 2012

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Erik Compton can't shake this nagging foot problem.

A plantar wart took hold toward the end of last year, growing to the point where he couldn't ignore it anymore. With the new PGA Tour season approaching, Compton finally saw a doctor last month to have it cut out — but now it hasn't healed properly.

"It actually hurts more than before," he groused.

For Compton, this is little more than annoyance. Considering all the recipient of two heart transplants has endured to finally stand on the brink of his rookie debut at the Sony Open, a little hole in his foot isn't going to get in the way.

"It's the opportunity to play, to really chase a dream that I've had to win on the (PGA) Tour," he said. "Now every week I have a chance."

And then for emphasis: "I'm going to have a chance to win on the tour."

A chance is all he ever wanted.

For those who might need refreshing, Compton has been running on someone else's heart for 20 of his 32 years. Childhood cardiomyopathy claimed his own, sending him onto the operating table for the first time at age 12.

Fifteen years later, the replacement needed replacing. A 2007 heart attack put Compton back on the transplant list, discouraging him to the point he started giving away all of his golf gear.

For the Miami native, those days are a distant memory. Four months after a donor match was found — that of a former college volleyball player — Compton was teeing it up with borrowed clubs at PGA Tour qualifying.

He returned to the Nationwide Tour last year; a victory in Mexico put him in line for a PGA Tour promotion.

With a new heart came a new approach. Previously, Compton often left the impression that he was racing the clock, trying to outmuscle his limitations. Now he still enjoys working out but doesn't get as irritated by a bad hole or bad round.

"It's not the one (spectacular) shot that makes you a tour player," he said. "It's all the shots that make you a tour player."

As with any season, Compton will have to watch his energy level. Twice a day, he takes up to 10 pills that tell his body not to reject the new heart. Sometimes they make him sleepy. When he had a rejection scare last summer, an infusion of steroids caused his hands to shake.

And yet here he is — in Hawaii, playing not on a sponsor exemption but on a fully earned PGA Tour card.

Not long ago, Compton happened to catch himself in a Golf Channel profile and wound up chuckling to himself.

"I don't see myself as that (patient), you know?" he said. "They call me the miracle guy, but I don't see it that way. I just want to tee it up and play.

"There are so many good times going on right now."

jshain@tribune.com