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June 1, 2016

Erik Compton Straight from the Heart

Preparing to compete on the PGA Tour is about more than the physical for Compton

BY: PETE PAPPAS

“I can’t grind like I used to when I was younger. I might only hit each club a few times on the range, so I verbalize what I want to do before each swing, and that helps me hit particular shots that can translate to the course.” — Erik Compton

Erik Compton’s journey from a spirited 12 year-old who took up golf after his first heart transplant to a gutsy 34 year-old who finished second at the 2014 U.S. Open is nothing short of amazing.

Compton’s twice undergone major medical procedures. He’s had three different hearts beating inside his chest. And he battles constant fatigue, daily risks of respiratory infection, and takes more meds every day than most people do in a year. But none of this fazes Compton.

Through all the tremendous peaks and lowest valleys, Compton’s figured something out. He’s figured out the biggest secret to success in golf, as in life, is playing with heart.

If you’re a golf instructor or coach, try emphasizing the following points with your students that help Compton play his best every time he steps out his door.

Perspective and Clarity

As a young kid Compton was a gifted athlete, excelling in multiple sports like baseball, basketball and football. However, there are certain realities that come with having two heart transplants, and one of them is exhaustion.

“I can’t grind like I used to when I was younger,” Compton says. He rarely practices after a round, and usually only puts in about 30 minutes on the range before a tournament round. He understands that fatigue is part of his life, which has caused him to really focus in and make the time he does spend on the range more productive. “I might only hit each club a few times on the range, so I verbalize what I want to do before each swing, and that helps me hit particular shots that can translate to the course,” Compton describes.

Patience and Acceptance

Compton spends countless hours off the course promoting organ donation and working with organizations like Donate Life America (www.donatelife.net) to raise awareness and give hope to those who are experiencing what Compton has experienced most of his life. “I want everyone to have the same chance to live that I had, because I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’ve done if I didn’t have a heart transplant,” Compton says. In fact, after the second heart transplant at age 28 he didn’t think he’d ever play golf again and even sold his golf equipment. It was a dark time in the life of the now 36- year-old. Looking back, he realizes that it was a pivotal point. His life could have gone in a very different direction, but his will led him on a journey of self discovery that would ultimately lead to full-time status on the PGA Tour.

“We all heal differently, all react differently, so we all figure it out differently,” Compton offers. “The important thing is patience and acceptance, and that gives you the strength to overcome whatever challenges you’re facing.” Acceptance is sometimes viewed in sports, and life in general as a sign of conceding, but Compton sees it as a sign of strength. “You have to be ready when things go wrong in golf, because they will,” Compton says. “But when you can accept that, they won’t be distractions, and it’s easier to move on to and be successful on your next shot.”

Heart and Determination

Compton admits if he withdrew from every tournament in which he felt sick, he wouldn’t even finish half of them. But he’s figured out how to compete even when he’s not at his best. It’s about never giving up. “I’m alive because someone else gave me the gift of life,” his voice quivers with appreciation. “But I’m also alive because I have tremendous determination, and am a tremendous competitor. I won’t lay down for anything.” Bad bounces happen in life, and on the golf course. Compton’s story reminds us that it’s how you respond to those bad bounces that determine your level of success. “We all get knocked over,” Compton says. “But the way we win is by learning to do the best we can.” Because in golf, like in life, it’s sometimes not about what you accomplish but what you overcome.