What they said: Erik Compton

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July 14, 2010
PGA TOUR staff

MORE INTERVIEWS: Reno-Tahoe Open transcript archive

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome Erik Compton to the interview room. I think most people anywhere know the story of the heart transplant and all that. This year you're playing great. You made four or five cuts on the tour. When you get into the events you're playing great. This is your third sponsor's exemption this year, so you'll have four more, I believe.

Talk a little bit about your year and your thoughts coming into this week, and then we'll take some questions.

ERIK COMPTON: Well, I guess the Open was very exciting, so I've taken some of that time to just basically be at home and relax. I had my cousins in from Norway, so the last week has been just doing some boating and snorkeling a little bit, enjoying the family, doing some housework.

Then I got a call -- I started back last week preparing for a tournament in case I got into anything, or I was gonna consider going to try to go play some Canadian Tour events or whatever I could do to try to keep my game sharp.

I got a call from here that I got a spot on Friday. I was out -- I create these own golf tournaments at the house with other pros that are there that are college kids so I can keep my game sharp. We try to make little tournament, like one-day events.

So I enjoy doing that. I just enjoy playing golf wherever it is, whether it's in Miami or out here playing. You know, I'm very thankful for getting opportunities to play. It's not easy to get into tournaments, so, you know, any time you get an invitation to play in a tournament out on the Tour, it's obviously very, very special.

You know, just can't thank the tournament directors enough for them, you know, thinking about me. That's it pretty much. Just been nice.

The MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions.

Q. Have you played the course yet??

ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, I played nine on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Q. Can you talk about what it is specifically in your game, why you think you're playing well??

ERIK COMPTON: Well, I mean, I've been playing, you know, pretty good off the tee; I've been a lot straighter than I have in the years past. I think being healthy is -- has been a big factor for me in years past. I think I wasn't as healthy as I thought I was, so I was running into problems when I was out at tournaments. I think I'm also a little bit older and more patient.

There isn't much of a difference. I think it's just maybe being a little more mature and understanding my body and trying not to overpower a course. Just try to get the ball on the fairway and hit it on the green and make the putt and go to the next hole. I still feel like my better golf is going to be ahead in the future coming, so I'm happy with this year. I've had a great year considering it's only been two years since I've had my surgery.

But I'm still trying to push the hurdle to play and move into the top 20, top 10. The ultimate goal is to try to win out here. That's why I'm here. That's what I practice at home for, you know.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what your doctors have told you about the latest transplant? Is this something that can carry you on into old age?

ERIK COMPTON: I don't know. I think they're just really happy with my progress right now; I'm out playing and living a normal life. I take a lot of it day-to-day. I don't get too far ahead of myself.

I don't know what the long-term prognosis -- the first transplant I had lasted 16 years. Hopefully with better medication that I'm taking now, I'll be able to do well. Obviously my body has taken pretty much a hit over the years of just taking medications and the stress that I have.

But I really don't think about it much when I'm at a tournament, other than the fact that I'm trying to walk up the hills and play golf. Everybody is gonna feel somewhat deflated playing in high altitudes and walking up the hills. So that's my biggest battle, just trying to do that and play the course.

Regardless of what the field is, it's you against the golf course. That's what I'm trying to do and focus on. You know, I know my story with the transplant has obviously been a big part of my success and maybe helping me mentally to know where I am as a person and to know that I've overcome a lot, so is helps with the golf.

Sometimes it can be a little bit distracting when I'm thinking about it all the time. So when I'm out here playing the tournament and I'm on the course, I'm just trying to grind it out just like everybody else.

Q. And I understand you had to get a special okay from your doctor to come out here because of the elevation.

ERIK COMPTON: Actually, no. It wasn't really -- I mean, they have transplant Olympics up in mountains, and transplant recipients go skiing and things like that. Obviously I'm gonna feel a little bit different just because I'm coming from sea level with the first two days like anybody else would.

But, you know, I let the doctors know exactly what I'm doing, so they're very aware that I'm out playing golf tournaments and things. To them I'm just a patient. I'm not anything extra special because I'm playing golf. I take the same medications that all transplant recipients in the world take. To them, I'm a patient, so...

Q. I believe Casey Martin is gonna be out here. He has a college player from the University of Oregon in the tournament. I'm wondering if you have talked to him about having special challenges trying to get on to the PGA Tour, or if you might seek him out??

ERIK COMPTON: We've played some practice rounds together in the past. We always give each other a hard time with our different situations. But, you know, I thank him a lot because for what he did initially being able to get the cart; that helped me out a lot with the ADA.

You know, I just think he's a fighter; he's a heck of a golfer. If it wasn't for his problems, he would be playing out here and walking. He's a gifted athlete. You know, I haven't seen him or talked to him since I've had the second transplant, so it would be cool to see him out here and run into him to basically thank him for kind of taking that path on.

So I know -- I understand he's coaching, so I mean, you know, it's one of those things where I haven't talked to him, but I'm sure we're on the same page.

Q. Your reaction to the first hill you had to walk up this week.

ERIK COMPTON: I mean, it's just like any other event where I have to walk up hills. Muirfield had some big hills. Trying think of some other tournaments. We were in Mexico a few weeks ago, and that was pretty hilly as well with high altitude. Just trying to get through the course like everybody else.

Obviously it's a little bit more challenging for somebody who has heart issues, but I embrace the challenge and look forward to seeing -- testing my skills against a tough course like this.

I wouldn't say this is a typical golf course that would suit a game for a guy like me. I just have to be patient and take my time. I mean, it's not a Florida golf course where you walk from one tee to the next.

Q. Just asking, at nine years old when you found out your illness, you know, first reaction??

ERIK COMPTON: Well, I was very upset with the fact that I wasn't gonna be able to play sports again. I had a rush of news all at the same time, so it was devastating for me and my family. Probably hard for my to grasp at nine years old.

But when they tell you that you're eventually gonna have to have a heart procedure, you're scared to death of that as a young kid. So the ages between nine and twelve were tough because I wasn't able to do the things that I wanted to do, which was running around and doing the things that normal kids are doing.

Q. What about the second one? After having one, were you better mentally focused to accept and...

ERIK COMPTON: No, I think it's a little bit easier when you're older. I knew that time might come in my life where I might need to be retransplanted. I was always in denial about it thinking I could have that first transplant for the rest of my life.

But I just prepared myself for whatever obstacles were in my way and try to move through 'em. I think when I look back on it, you know, you don't -- you kind of don't really know how you got through it. You just somehow were able to get through tough times and tough nights.

It just makes it -- when you're out here playing and you know, how lucky I am to be out here playing. You know, I talked to somebody the other day that was in the hospital that was on an artificial heart.

So it's pretty tough to know that there's a lot of people out there that are in the same shoes that I was in right now waiting for hearts. I get emails and I think, you know, the cool thing is when -- being able to play golf and be in a stage on the tour where you get -- you're on TV and things, and I feel like I can help other people to get motivated to think themselves out of these bad situations. You know, if they believe they're gonna get a heart, that goes a long way.

It's kind of tough, because I get emails every day. I'm always kind of going back to the place where I was. I know it's for a great cause. If I can make a difference in somebody else's life and give them hope, you know, guys that want to do Iron Man competitions and get back to soccer and swimming and things that I'm able to do now which I never thought I was, you know, if they can see me doing it, it makes a big difference.

I think, you know, with transplants being such a new thing in the last 30 years, I think I've kind of been a guinea pig when I was young, in '92, to take the medications that I did. I think 20 years from now we're gonna look at the medications that we're taking today and laugh. I think they'll eventually be able to cure anybody's problems with medications or with stem cell research and things like that.

Hopefully I can be the guinea pig so that people don't have to suffer and have to go through bad things.

Q. How long was it after you had the first one before you could do any physical activity, and how long after the second one??

ERIK COMPTON: It was probably about -- the first one, you know, they get you up right away. Probably four or five months. Then the same with this transplant. I was up exercising two months afterwards.

Q. Can you talk about what it was specifically, why the first one didn't take??

ERIK COMPTON: No, the first one did take.

Q. Yeah, why you needed the second one.

ERIK COMPTON: Because of the -- it's a foreign object in the body, so your body is eventually gonna reject the tissues. That's the biggest obstacle transplant recipients deal with.

It also has to do with the fact that it's not my native organ, so for mine to last 16 years -- and people have them that last 22 years, but they run into problems. You know, getting a new engine in there is critical.

You know, my heart basically was shutting down after about 16 years, because it's a slow, slow rejection. There's no way to ever have a perfect -- it's very -- I mean, it just can't happen because it's not what you're born with, so your body is always fighting against that.

Q. What did you feel? What were the signs that told you, you know, that you needed to go in?

ERIK COMPTON: Well, I had a heart attack. That was a sign, just like anybody else would. I had a heart attack and I couldn't breathe and was having a lot of pain.

You know, I'm sure that those signs are different for different people. But that's what I had. I was lucky enough to survive that and to get retransplanted. You know, it's one thing to have a heart attack; to have one with a transplant, it's not something that people usually survive.

The key is if you're gonna have a transplant, you know, be on top of it and prevent that from happening, which I did. But it just so happened that I ran into that problem. Had I not had the heart attack, I might not have been retransplanted.

Q. Does this get old to you a little bit, or do you feel you're kind of an ambassador for transplants??

ERIK COMPTON: I mean, I've been talking about this for 20 years now so I'm used to it. I think now that I've had the second transplant and I feel like with, you know, being able to compete and walking around and doing that, I do feel like -- and I notice this I've been able to help other people and just educating them on transplants.

We're trying to find a way to make a better life with transplants. There's people that are gonna get transplants tomorrow. It's not just -- it's gonna continuing to go on. So if I can talk about my story and things that I do, it can help others.

Like I said, opportunities to play in the U.S. Open, or even tonight, HBO Real Sports is going to be airing with Bryant Gumbel, they did a whole store on me, and things like that will sent my message out not only for transplant recipients, but for donor families and people that don't know about organ donations.

A lot of people still don't believe that organ transplants work. So it's affecting a lot of people. You know, if I can get my message out -- I mean, my message is more than just the game of golf, playing golf. Obviously the transplants are what people are gonna remember about me whenever I move on.

But that's, um, you know -- by playing this game at this stage, it's been able to access that much more.

THE MODERATOR: Erik, as always, thank you for taking your time. Good luck this week.

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