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Erik Compton, still grinding, celebrates 30 years since first heart transplant

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Erik Compton is going to have a great Saturday.

If he makes the cut at the Honda Classic, he’ll be playing a third round at PGA National. If not, he’ll merely have to settle for the 30th anniversary of getting a second chance at life.

The date was Feb. 26, 1992, when Compton – then 12 – got the first of what has become two heart transplants, needed after he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart becomes inflamed and cannot effectively pump blood. He has battled and battled and battled since, and an opening round of 1-under 69 at the Honda Classic on Thursday was yet another reminder that he’s made a career out of defying absurdly long odds.

“I’ve got more pressure experience in my life, in the field combined,” Compton said.

Those words weren’t hyperbole, and certainly don’t just apply to him playing golf. He likes to say he’s been dead, twice. He drove himself to a hospital after having a heart attack in 2007, seven months before his second transplant in May 2008. He has been told multiple times that his sports career was over, multiple times that he could no longer play competitive golf.


Highlights: The Honda Classic, Round 1

Highlights: The Honda Classic, Round 1

He’s still here. Still playing. Still battling.

And on Saturday, still celebrating.

“Obviously, 30 is going to be a big milestone,” Compton said. “I’ve always celebrated the date of my second transplant and my first transplant. You honor the donor, just all the achievements that have happened through the years.”

The 42-year-old Miami native, who still makes his home there, has been a pro golfer since 2001. He’s usually on the Korn Ferry Tour these days; he’s made one PGA Tour cut in only four tries since 2016 and is playing the Honda this week on a sponsor’s exemption.

He has never won on the PGA Tour; his best finish was a tie for second at the 2014 U.S. Open, the big spark in a year in which he earned $1.8 million – roughly half of his $4.1 million in career PGA Tour earnings.


Full-field scores from The Honda Classic


“I’m hungry,” Compton said. “A lot of guys that are my age maybe aren’t necessarily as hungry because they’ve made a lot more money than I have. I’ve had a pretty solid career but compared to a lot of guys I haven’t made the amount of dollars. So, it keeps you hungry. ... And I don’t see why I can’t continue to keep chasing my dream.”

With the hunger, there’s also belief. It may have wavered a bit in recent years, but it’s still there.

Compton says he feels great, having just dropped 20 pounds. His clubhead speed and ball speed, he insists, are good enough for him to compete with the best. A solid round Friday would mean a spot on the weekend, which would mean a check, maybe even a chance to contend.

“There’s been times where it’s been tough in the last few years,” Compton said. “I love to play, but there’s been some people who’ve stepped up and made it possible for me to keep playing. So, I’m making a big push this year and that’s just what I’m trying to do, put one foot in front of the other.”