Sports Columns

June 15, 2014

Loran Smith: Compton has the heart to win U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. — Could there be a more heartwarming story than for Erik Compton — a man living with his third heart — to become the United States Open champion? This is a man who knows what’s important in life, and one who got an encouraging word about his game being suited for Pinehurst No. 2 over lunch with Jack Nicklaus last week.

Compton, philosophically, sounds like a motivational speaker, invoking talking points like attitude, one-shot-at a time and the underscoring of fundamentals making a difference in life and on the golf course. He speaks in terms of his approach to playing golf like a football coach who is wont to remind us that when the dust settles, the difference has to do with blocking and tackling.

Whatever the circumstances, Compton sees golf, especially on U. S. Open courses, a mater of hitting the ball in the fairways, followed by hitting the same ball on the greens. Following his round Saturday, he noted that he was aggressively swinging at the ball and not letting a mishit or errant shot get him off track or blur his focus. He avoids negative thinking, refusing to allow even the thoughts of family to become distractions. On the course, a golfer has to have — like a quarterback who just threw an interception — a short memory.

“Forget the bad shots and move on,” he says.

Spicing his conversation with humor, Compton is not surprised he is where he is, owing to the fact that he has been playing “under the radar” and is applying a solid swing on the golf ball.

Compton is never one for self pity even though nobody has to contend with health challenges like this former University of Georgia golfer who has other issues like vertigo and allergies which come from the atmosphere. Nobody has to worry about their mortality like Compton, who has endured two heart transplants.

If golf is only a game, nobody is more compatible with that viewpoint than Compton who is enjoying his best year on tour with $863,233 in earnings coming into Pinehurst. This season represents almost a third of his career earnings of $2,134,425. That he is succeeding in a challenging sport and is tied for second after 54 holes in the U. S. Open is cause for celebrating, especially considering what he has gone through.

At Georgia, he played on two straight SEC championship teams for coach Chris Haack. He made the Walker Cup team while in college and has won on the Web.com Tour and the Canadian Tour, and he has played in Europe. As a kid — his medical condition notwithstanding — he was confident that he would make it to the big leagues in baseball. Following his first surgery, they “wheeled” him out of the operating room, and he reminded everybody that he would still make it to the majors.

Attitude! Thumbs up, please.

With Compton finishing tied for second, it marked the second consecutive day with a Bulldog in that position. Brendon Todd, who saw his game lose the efficiency of the first two rounds, finished Saturday at five over for the tournament.

Haack has to be pleased even before today’s final round is played. Eight of his guys gained entry into the competition and five of them made the cut. One is seriously in contention.

Chris Kirk posted a 72 and stands at a very competitive one over par position. Harris English finished with 75 and is nine over for the tournament. Russell Henley had 82 for a 16 over total.

Each will try to improve his position in the final round and, no doubt, will keep an eye of the progress of their fellow alumnus Erik Compton. Like the rest of the Bulldog nation.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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