Golf is a sport of stories as much as action, and this is one of the best of the year: Erik Compton will be playing at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open next week.
Why's this such a big deal? Here's why: Compton is a double-heart-transplant survivor.
One of the best golfers in Miami when he was a little kid, Compton had to undergo a heart-transplant procedure when he was just 12 years old. He went on to play golf at the University of Georgia and reigned as one of the nation's top collegiate golfers. Named an All-American, he put together wins on both the Canadian and Hooters tours.
But in 2007, he began having problems once again. That October, he suffered a heart attack and drove himself to a hospital. Another heart surgery was necessary. And during a 14-hour procedure in May 2008, he got a second heart, one that had belonged to a University of Dayton volleyball player who died in a hit-and-run crash. (Compton has met the family of the donor, Isaac Klosterman, and it was every bit the emotional, wrenching scene you would expect.)
He reached the second round of Q School in 2008, and he's received many invitations and sponsors' exemptions throughout his career. So far this year, he's made four cuts in four attempts, but as CBS's Steve Elling notes, his condition fatigues him so much that he has little left by the weekend.
He even has permission in certain circumstances to use a cart if he wishes, but he's worked hard to avoid that, trying to play the game like everyone else. His transplants have robbed him of much of his power — as much as 40 yards off the tee — but he's still got the absolute competitive drive that has, quite literally, kept him alive through all these years.
"Dying's easy," Compton told the Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2008. "Living's hard. The fighting is hard. Everyone's a fighter until they give up. I like fighting. I like the challenge of living."
Compton played in this week's Springfield, Ohio qualifying tournament, and it took him 39 holes — playoff included — to reach Pebble. But he did it. This will be his first appearance in a major championship.
He'll have the challenge of his golf career next week. And he's earned every minute of it.