Originally created 03/02/00

Journey continues for golfer



MIAMI -- Erik Compton is in awe.

Since he was a kid, he has been romping around the famed Blue Monster course at the Doral-Ryder Open, watching Greg Norman and other stars.

This week, he has a locker next to them. He practices next to them on the range.

But when Compton went to bed Wednesday night on the eve of his first PGA Tour event, he will be thinking about other things -- like the beating of his heart.

Today at 9:09 a.m., Compton will become the first heart-transplant recipient to compete on the PGA Tour.

"Deep down inside when I go to bed every night, I'm not thinking so much about the golf," he said. "I am with somebody else's heart. I think about somebody is not here, and I am here right now. That's what keeps driving me to do better."

He has done well already.

Two years ago, he became the first player with a heart transplant to compete in the U.S. Amateur and earn a scholarship to an NCAA school when he signed with Georgia.

But he received a sponsor's exemption to Doral not just because he has a new heart, but because he can play -- a three-time Miami high school player of the year, the top-ranked junior in the world in 1998.

"I know he can make the cut," said Jim McLean, Doral's teaching pro and Compton's personal coach. "I will be very surprised if Erik doesn't play well."

Compton, a redshirt freshman at Georgia, is personable and chatty, no different from any other 20-year-old. But ask him about his heart and he measures his sentences, fearing he might break down before a room full of people.

"I don't know where to start with the story," he said. "You can write 12 movies about it."

Compton was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at age 9, a disease that enlarges and attacks the heart. Three years later, he became the youngest heart-transplant recipient at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

He got out of the hospital in time to graduate from the sixth grade.

Compton's heart came from a 15-year-old girl who died in a car accident in Tampa eight years ago. He is not comfortable talking about it, something he prefers to keep in the family -- his and hers. He will meet the donor family when the time is right.

"They will be with me throughout the week," he said.

That Compton has made it this far -- from a high school star to the U.S. Amateur to a college scholarship to a spot in a field that includes Norman, David Duval and Phil Mickelson -- goes back to his first post-transplant tournament.

He played the U.S. Transplant Games in Utah just six months after his surgery, shot a 92 and was thrilled.

It was an important week, a chance to see so many others with transplant who have gone on to lead a normal life and pursue their dreams. It gave him a chance to look forward instead of back, and he liked what he saw.

"I have convinced myself that I am normal," he said, "and that I can do anything."

It is never so simple as plugging in a new heart and getting on with life. Compton takes pills in the morning and night to manage his body, anti-rejection medicine that lowers his immune system but also brings some side effects.

He compensates by staying fit, and by staying away from things that normal 20-year-olds might do. Exactly what those side effects are, he isn't saying.