By Ann Liguori
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All of you newly converted Erik Compton fans can follow him at the Travelers Championship, the PGA Tour event taking place Thursday through Sunday at TPC River Highlands, just outside of Hartford, Connecticut.
In addition to Compton, this year’s tournament features four of the world’s top eight players in the Official World Golf Rankings, including Bubba Watson (No. 3), Matt Kuchar (No. 5), Jason Day (No. 7) and Sergio Garcia (No. 8). Other top players in the field include Harris English, Freddie Jacobson, Kevin Streelman, Vijay Singh, David Toms, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Nick Watney, Charlie Hoffman, Bo Van Pelt and Camillo Villegas.
Compton, a recipient of two heart transplants, pulled off one of the most tremendous accomplishments in golf when he finished tied for second at the U.S. Open this past weekend on Pinehurst No. 2. The 34-year-old got to within four shots of leader and eventual winner Martin Kaymer, but three bogies in five holes on the back nine dropped Compton to 1-under for the championship, good enough to finish tied for second place with Rickie Fowler.
What an accomplishment for Compton in only his second U.S. Open. It was the best performance of his career, which has been interrupted several times by heart and medical problems, including a near-death experience years after his first heart transplant, when he suffered a heart attack and drove himself to the hospital.
And what an opportunity for awareness for various organ donor organizations such as Donate Life America, an organization that Compton works with, to get their message out and to inspire those who are experiencing the pain and fear that Compton went through with two heart transplants.
“When I first turned pro or first got my PGA Tour card,” Compton said, “I teamed up with Genentech and we had a goal in mind to be able to share my story and help others and spread the word about organ donation and transplantation.”
The Donate Life web site pointed out that there is new data analysis from transplant surgeon and researcher Christopher Barry, MD, PhD, that indicates “the average number of people who die each year before they can receive a lifesaving organ transplant is nearly 11,000 – or 30 people every day.”
“After a week like I had last week,” added Compton, “we have our team here, so we’re able to enjoy each other and celebrate what I accomplished last week…So with the play that I had last week, it kind of spoke for itself on a national level, so I’m just happy that everybody who has supported me over the last three years and believed in me, we’ve kind of reached a really great goal.”
He continued: “I feel blessed to be somewhat of, I guess, a person that’s setting the standard to learn a little bit more about transplant, what we can do with it. You know, I’m just enjoying the journey, and there’s still a lot of golf and life left ahead of me. I don’t really know how much more I can elaborate on the fact that I’m so lucky and blessed to be this far in my dream.”
Compton, during his Travelers Championship press conference, talked about spending a lot of time the last several years with his coach Charlie Deluca and on his game plan to tackle Pinehurst No. 2: “We had a game plan about how the course was going to play, and we shaved down the greens at home and hit a lot of ‑‑ emulated a lot of shots that I was going to have at the U.S. Open.
“My wife, Barbara, she said, ‘go to the Open and make it a priority to get rest, go back to the room and just chill out,’ and that’s basically what I did. I turned the phone off and focused on my game, and I think going forward for other major championships, you know, I’d like her to be there with me to celebrate another great moment that I had last week, but I feel like I learned a lot from how to handle myself under those situations, and I think I was able to perform at that level with such intense competition because of what I went through as a kid. I feel like I’ve been groomed my whole life to be able to handle a big pressure situation like we had at the U.S. Open.“
Travelers, a leading provider of property casualty insurance for home, auto and business, has been the title sponsor of the event since 2007 and recently announced that they will continue as title sponsor for another 10 years.
Bubba Watson, who won the Travelers in 2010, loves playing in the tournament every year, and despite it being a week after the grueling U.S. Open, never misses it.
“I think I was the first one this year to sign up for the tournament,” Watson said. “You know it was a dream come true to win here in 2010. My dad was about to pass away, so my dad got to see me win for the first time. At the time it could have been the only time, but I happened to back it up a couple years later.
“Yeah, it’s dear to my heart coming here. The fans, the volunteers here, the title sponsor, Travelers, they put together a great tournament, and I just registered, and they give your wife a little gift, a little bag, and then my son, they give the little kids some toys, as well. He got a little spaceship, but he thought it was an airplane, so he thought it was the greatest thing in the world.”
It will be interesting to see how Compton plays, so soon after his inspirational T2 finish at the U.S. Open. The experience and attention must be exhausting.
And as for Bubba, the TPC River Highlands course fits Bubba’s game a lot better than Pinehurst No. 2, where Bubba did not make the cut.
“We were joking with friends last week because all my friends like coming to the U.S. Open and watching everybody struggle,’ said Bubba. “We were joking about Travelers. We were looking forward to Travelers, because I can sit here and tell you exactly what clubs I’m going to hit for the next four days on each hole.”
And the greens will be a lot more receptive and “friendly” than Pinehurst No. 2!
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