Not long after Erik Compton strolled off the course at Congressional Country Club, moments after he fielded questions about his 3-under-par 68 in the first round of the Quicken Loans National, he was asked one he’d heard frequently during his time on the PGA Tour.
How much has having had heart surgery overshadowed what he’s accomplished over the years?
“What heart surgery are you talking about?” Compton deadpanned, breaking into a smile only after several seconds of awkward silence. “I live with this. This is my story, and I’ve been well-prepared to have a big event like that and to share my story.”
Compton, 34, has had two heart transplants – the first in 1992, when he was 12, and the other in May 2008, seven months after he had a heart attack. At age 9, he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition where his heart wasn’t strong enough to pump blood to the rest of his body.
Two weeks ago, much of the final-round television coverage of the U.S. Open centered on Compton, who tied for second with a 1-under-par 279 with Rickie Fowler.
It was something he mostly ignored; between immediately heading to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship, where he missed the cut, and then to Rhode Island earlier this week for the CVS Caremark Classic, a charity event, he has had no time to dissect his performances.
“I mean, if I had 18 birdies today, it would probably be the first question that I got,” Compton said. “I’m used to it. I know that my heart is always going to be the story, but I think it will be a little less this week, and I think the storyline is me trying to get into the British Open.”
Compton’s goal is possible this week because of the new Open Qualifying Series, where four players who were not previously eligible for the event in mid-July can earn an invitation with a top-12 finish at the Quicken Loans National.
The 13-year pro, who has spent much of his career on mini-tours, has never qualified to play in the British Open. Because of the new qualifying criteria, he chose to accept an invitation to play at Congressional this week despite the prolonged time away from home.
“This is my third [week] in a row, and you know, I might have changed the schedule around a little bit differently had I already been in the British Open,” Compton said. “But I want to play in the British Open, and this is a great golf course to try to qualify on.”
Compton made the cut at Congressional each of the last two years, and on Thursday afternoon, he held a tie for third place with Patrick Reed, two strokes behind clubhouse leader Greg Chalmers and one back of Ricky Barnes.
He finished his round with four consecutive birdies, narrowly missing an eagle when his approach on the par-5 6th rested just shy of the pin and holing out from 14 feet on the par-5 9th to wrap up his morning.
“Great feeling,” Compton said. “Starting the day before I went out, I looked at the pin sheet and knew I just needed to be patient, and then some birdies came to be later in the round. Had some holes that were downwind we could take advantage of, and you know, I mean, four birdies in a row? Dinner will taste great.”
Should Compton fail to qualify for the British Open this weekend, he has two more chances – at the Greenbriar Classic next week, where the same qualifications will be in place, and at the John Deere Classic in two weeks, where the top finisher not previously exempt will head overseas.
“And then if I don’t, I’m going to take three weeks off and really enjoy the [U.S.] Open and all the accomplishments that have going on and decompress,” Compton said. “I don’t think my schedule is different than it has been in years past. It just seems that you’re seeing more of me; in years past, you never saw me.”