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SORRY, ROCCO, but Erik Compton's late-season run has overtaken your runner-up finish in the U.S. Open as golf's feel-good story of the year.
The 29-year-old Compton's miraculous comeback from a second heart transplant took another amazing turn when, playing on a sponsor's exemption, he made the cut at the Children's Miracle Network Classic. And that's only half of it. Last week's 60th-place finish and check for $10,074 were good for Compton's confidence. But they were overshadowed by the giant step he had taken two weeks earlier, one that showed Compton's remarkable resilience, when he rallied from seven strokes back in the final round with a gutsy four-under 68 to advance through the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying.
This week Compton will tee it up in the second stage of Q school at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa, and if he makes it through, he'll be guaranteed at least conditional status on the Nationwide tour and have a chance to earn a ticket to the PGA Tour during qualifying's third and final stage, Dec. 3--8 at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.
Not bad for a guy who first needed a heart transplant at age 12 and, when that heart began to fail last year, survived a near-fatal heart attack before undergoing a second transplant surgery last May.
Compton is still so weak from his procedure that he has to ride in a cart during competition. The Tour will allow him to use the cart until next March. He is also allowed to take an antirejection medicine that is on the Tour's list of banned drugs.
"I don't think any doctors anticipated my playing a Tour event five months [after the transplant]," says Compton, an All-America at Georgia who has knocked around in golf's minor leagues, mostly the Nationwide and Canadian tours, since leaving school in 2001. "Golf is a skill, and if you have your hands and eyes working, you can play the game."
Compton sent in his application for Q school only because the first stage was in Key Biscayne, Fla., near his home in Miami. The rest is history in the making. He is believed to be the only professional athlete to have received two heart transplants. His first transplant came from a 12-year-old girl, his latest from a 26-year-old All-America volleyball player who was in a motorcycle accident. "I got the heart of a champion," Compton says of both donors, and he has written letters of thanks to their families and promised to do his best to honor their memories and their precious gifts.
This year has been dizzying. Compton also got married this summer, and he and his wife, Barbara, are expecting their first child in February.
He's grateful for a second chance at everything. "I'm the same guy who had seven chest tubes and 20 IVs in him and looked dead," Compton said last week. "Now I'm alive and playing golf in this tournament. Miracles do happen."