Originally created 08/11/01

A new heart, but same fire for Compton



SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- Erik Compton no longer is surprised by his success.

He was determined to be one of the top U.S. junior golfers, and he was. He wanted to play major college golf, and he helped Georgia win its second straight SEC title this year. The Walker Cup was a top priority, and here he is.

The 21-year-old player from Miami makes it sound so simple.

"The truth of the matter is, here's a guy - me - who's very competitive and wants to win at anything he does. He was like that before his surgery, and he's always had that," Compton said Friday. I've always been determined to be one of the best athletes in the world. It so happens I play the game of golf and I work hard at it.

"And I had a heart transplant."

Oh, yeah. That.

Don't get the idea Compton has let a day go by without remembering that what makes all his dreams possible is the heart of a 15-year-old girl who died in a car accident.

"There are two sides to me," he said. "There's the competitive side, and there's a side that appreciate people in life and the opportunity God has given me. Somebody's tragedy has been my new birth, and it gives me chills thinking about it."

On Saturday, nine years after he had a heart transplant and got out of the hospital in time to graduate from the sixth grade, Compton will join a U.S. team that will try to win back the Walker Cup held by the 10-man team from Great Britain and Ireland.

He will play in the first of eight singles matches in the afternoon against Gary Wolstenholme, the 40-year-old who knocked off Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup.

"I've worked very hard to get here," Compton said. "It took a lot of determination and positive thinking. It means a lot to my family. My goals have always been that if I'm going to do something, do it to the best of my ability. And that's what I'm doing now."

Compton was 9 when he was diagnosed with cardomyopathy, a disease that enlarges and attacks the heart. He had the heart transplant three years later, the youngest heart recipient at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

He has never met the family of the donor, although Compton said they sent him a package five years ago - a Scottish cap, making him believe that the girl was British and on vacation when she was killed in Tampa, Fla.

"Eventually, there will be a day when I meet the family," he said.

He met his past on Friday, however. In the hours before the anthems were played and flags ceremoniously raised to signal the opening of the Walker Cup matches, Compton had lunch with an 11-year-old boy who had a heart transplant just last month.

"This kid was no different than me except I play golf," he said. "For the rest of his life, he's a champion."

Compton has reason to feel that way.

He became the first heart-transplant patient to compete in the U.S. Amateur three years ago. Another first came at Doral last year when he was given an exemption to a PGA Tour event.

At Georgia, he won the Monroe Invitational in June and was named to the All-SEC team.

Now, it's on to another challenge.

Compton said he plans to turn pro after the U.S. Amateur in two weeks, hopeful for some sponsor exemptions and then signing up for Q-school.

"My next goal is to be the No. 1 professional in the world," he said. "Any why not? I've beaten more odds than anybody in the entire sport. There shouldn't be any reason why I can't be at the top."