Originally created 03/03/00

Heart-transplant recipient debuts with par

MIAMI -- Shooting even-par 72 in the Doral Open was nothing special Thursday. One of the players who shot it was.

Erik Compton, 20, became the first heart-transplant recipient to compete on the PGA Tour.

He felt good enough about his game -- and his heart -- after the opening round that he could see himself on tour someday.

"It's a different feeling," said Compton, who had two birdies and two bogeys. "But I like it. I like to play in front of a lot of people. It's exciting. I can play a lot better with a crowd. I can see myself out there in a few years."

Compton bombed his first drive of the day as well as the majority of his other tee shots.

The course, the crowd and the company he played with had his adrenaline pumping for his first PGA Tour event. So much so that Compton was hitting it past Jay Williamson and Brian Gay, two guys who make their living on the tour.

Compton was exhausted -- physically and mentally -- after his round. He was not accustomed to the slow play of the Tour, which he said caused him to tire. And though he was strong off the tee, hitting several drives well beyond 300 yards, his short game had some shortcomings.

"He was really pumped and he was letting them rip out there," said Compton's caddie, 24-year-old Brian Bryson. "He had some nerves the first couple of holes, but that's to be expected. He really battled through those and played well."

Compton admittedly struggled around and on many of the famed Blue Monster course's Bermuda greens. He three-putted the par-5 No. 8 for par.

On the green in two, Compton barely missed a 30-footer for eagle. Then he misfired from 2 feet and had to settle for a tap-in par.

Frustrated, Compton didn't stop shaking his head until just before he teed off on the par-3 No. 9.

But none of his problems on the golf course had anything to do with his heart.

"Out there, I wasn't thinking too much about my heart," Compton said. "I was just playing golf and having a good time and bombing drives. It's just fun to be between the ropes. This is something special."


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 Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Compton's heart came from a 15-year-old girl who died in a car accident in Tampa eight years ago.

But he didn't received a sponsor's exemption to Doral just because he has a new heart. He can play.

Compton, a three-time Miami high school player of the year, was the top-ranked junior in the world in 1998. Two years ago, he became the first player with a heart transplant to compete in the U.S. Amateur and earn an NCAA scholarship when he signed with Georgia.

Spectators could be heard on several holes talking about Compton's triumph, always giving him a round of applause and often asking for autographs.

"It's a very special and unique story and he's got a great ability," Bryson said. "It's great to see him out here."


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