Erik Compton plays with lot of heart at U.S. Open

Golfer with never 'give up' attitude surges to tie for 2nd behind after sterling 3rd-round 67

U.S. Open - Round Three

Erik Compton hits his tee shot on second hole during the third round. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images / June 14, 2014)

PINEHURST, N.C. – Eli Compton noticed the ballooning scores from the morning wave of U.S. Open competitors, and she warned her son, Erik.

He did not take well to it.

"He used a swear word and said, 'Mom, it's the U.S. Open!'" she said.

Erik recalled telling her simply to walk away from the TV.

"It doesn't matter what anybody else does," he explained. "It matters what you do."

What Compton did in Saturday's third round was shoot a 3-under 67 to surge into a tie for second place with Rickie Fowler, five strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer. Only one other player, Fowler, broke par (also with 67) after the USGA poured enough Tabasco on Pinehurst No. 2 to make nearly every competitor cry.

Compton is ranked 187 in the world and had competed in only one other major, the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He shot 16-over and missed the cut.

But, hey, he had a decent excuse for being off his game. A new heart had been put in his body.

We made it eight paragraphs before mentioning what Compton is best known for. It's not having an All-America career at Georgia or winning three times in Canada.

At 9, Compton was diagnosed with an enlarged heart muscle. He received a donor heart three years later and a second after nearly dying from a massive heart attack in 2007.

So you can understand why Eli, at Pinehurst with husband Peter, said she became "overwhelmed" with emotion while walking with Compton's group Saturday.

"He's an inspiration," she said. "He encourages all other people who are waiting (for transplants), particularly children. When he was 10 years old, he had no one to talk to."

Compton, 34, straddles the line between seeing the bigger picture — "Donate life" is a message on his Twitter bio — and wanting be known simply for excelling at his craft.

"I know his story is incredible," said Charles DeLucca, who has coached Compton for two decades, "but the guy's a golf pro. Has been an incredible player his whole life, and this is the next level. He has been through more than most people have, and he doesn't get nervous. He gets focused."

Added caddie Victor Billskoog: "He has been through the ringer and back. But he's tired of being known for that. Then again, you can't overlook that."

The heat this week in the North Carolina sand hills has been oppressive. The pressure on every shot is enormous.

"My attitude suits a U.S. Open course," he said, "because I don't ever give up."

Billskoog helps Compton stay hydrated, saying: "Electrolytes, a little bit of food and a positive attitude go a long way."

Compton said he feels good, other than a recent issue with vertigo.

"Charlie and I have been working night and day on putting," he said. "When I was on the putting green (Sunday), I felt like I was out there alone with him, focusing on targets."

Compton's third-round highlight came when he lasered a 235-yard 4-iron to five feet of the pin on No. 5. He made the eagle putt — and added five birdies.

The man who inspires sick children drew inspiration from golf legends Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jack Nicklaus.

Rodriguez spoke to him Saturday, praising his toughness and predicting he would shoot 64. Nicklaus told him that if he managed to earn a spot by qualifying, he would have a special week.

Special doesn't begin to describe his story.

"It's incredible what Erik is doing," Rory McIlroy said. "It's phenomenal."

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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