Gerry Dulac: Two-time transplant patient Compton maintains steady beat at Pinehurst

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PINEHURST, N.C. — It is an accomplishment in itself that Erik Compton is playing in the U.S. Open, never mind that he is in contention heading into the final round today at Pinehurst No. 2.

Seven years ago, he called his mom on the way to the hospital and said, "Goodbye. I'm not going to make it."

Compton not only made it, he has a chance to win the 114th U.S. Open. Granted, it doesn't look as though anyone can catch Martin Kaymer, who has led after three rounds and has a five-shot lead.

But, if anyone has the heart to do it, it's Compton. He's on his third.

"When I was walking down the 18th fairway, you try to keep yourself focused but you're emotional and you're in the competition and, look, it's just really great to be here," Compton said.

He might not have been talking about his position on the leader board.

Compton, 34, is not your usual U.S. Open contender. He is a two-time heart transplant recipient who was diagnosed with heart disease when he was a child.

He received his first heart transplant when he was 12, and for 16 years everything seemed to be OK. But, in October 2007, the heart began to fail and he managed to drive himself to the hospital.

That's when he called his mom, fearful he wasn't going to make it.

Compton, though, drove himself to the hospital quick enough to save his life. He received a second transplant and is trying to fight his way back to a PGA Tour career.

He is doing a good job at Pinehurst, where other players are having a difficult time steadying their heart.

"When you look around and I realize where I have been, I'm just happy to be able to play golf," Compton said. "But to play at this high level and in such a big tournament, it is something that I carry with me. And it gives me a lot of strength when I do have moments where I feel like I get emotional for a second."

Compton made six birdies Saturday and tied Rickie Fowler for the low round of the day to finish at 3-under 207. That left him five shots behind Kaymer, tied with Fowler, heading into the final charge.

"It shouldn't feel any different than any other tournament," Compton said after his round. "I have been through a lot in my life -- a lot more adrenaline pressure situations than hitting a tee shot on 18. Putting things in perspective may help me."

It has been a much different U.S. Open experience for Compton, who missed the cut in 2010 at Pebble Beach in his only other appearance.

"Give me a break," Compton said about the missed cut. "I just had a new heart."

Compton is not your average golfer. He has made 99 career starts on the PGA Tour without a victory and ranks No. 182 in the world rankings.

He wasn't eligible for the U.S. Open, but he made it through a sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, surviving a playoff when he made a 6-foot putt on the second extra hole that probably put his third heart to the test.

Compton qualified despite being affected by allergies that affected his immune system. When he played at the Memorial before the qualifier, he couldn't hear out of one ear.

Curiously, the previous sectional qualifier to win the U.S. Open was Michael Campbell, who did it at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005.

"The U.S. Open style fits my game," Compton said. "The harder golf courses I've had good finishes this year. Hopefully I have a great day [today] and you never know what can happen."

You don't have to worry about Compton having plenty of heart.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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