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March 4, 2009
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA
GARY FERMAN: We welcome Erik Compton to the interview room. As you know, Erik is playing in the Honda Classic as a sponsor exemption. The tournament obviously is very happy to have him here. It's one of the greater human interest stories on the PGA TOUR right now, and I'm sure everybody in this room is obviously touched by what Erik has gone through, and the Honda Classic could not be happier to have Erik involved this year.
Without further ado, I'll introduce Erik and he'll make an opening statement, and then we'll open up the floor for questions.
ERIK COMPTON: First I want to thank everybody for their support. Obviously this is my second tournament back, and you know, to get a sponsor invite here, which is close to home, usually I've played down in South Florida at Doral, and it's just been a dream come true to be back out here.
Obviously I'm going to try to walk this week. It's been a goal of mine to get back and play and walk, so it's just going to be a good week.
My family, obviously with the birth of our daughter, Petra, it's been a pretty tiring week, but hopefully I can play a little more golf.
Q. How difficult is the walking for you? Do you have to prepare yourself for this?
ERIK COMPTON: Obviously I haven't been able to prepare much for this event like I have going into Disney because of my wife being pregnant and being with her and trying to sneak away and practice a little bit. Didn't practice much this week.
So maybe that's a good thing.
Q. Do you have a sense of how far along you are, are you taking it day-by-day?
ERIK COMPTON: I'm going to give it a try. I'm feeling a lot better physically than I did four months ago. But I mean, with a situation, having two heart transplants, I don't know if I'll ever be 100%.
At some point you have to give it a try and play. I mean, I'm not a normal person, so I just have to make the best of what I have. You know, maybe I'll be even stronger, I don't know.
I haven't been practicing walking recently, but I trained really, really hard physically with a trainer before Disney, and now actually I haven't been training in the last month. I've been taking it easy. I think I was overdoing it.
I went to Dubai and walked there, and the first nine holes were actually the harder of the walk, and then I started to warm up and I felt better for the last nine holes, and then actually the second 18 that we played, which was on Saturday. So I had a day of rest.
I mean, the biggest thing for me is going to be controlling my adrenaline, if I do play well enough to get into contention, and the nerves get going; that's going to be obviously very much of an energy drainer. So just trying to control my emotions.
The hardest thing with a heart transplant is controlling your heart rate, because once it gets up, it stays there. With nerves and breathing and stuff, that can be difficult.
Q. What was the difficult part about those first nine holes, was it general fatigue, or something more specific?
ERIK COMPTON: No, I think just walking and the nerves. Everybody who plays, that's why you play the game. You have the nerves are the first three holes, and I actually birdied the first hole, so I was pretty excited about that.
For me, I don't have a very vagus nerve, which if an alarm clock goes off in the middle of the night, your heart will pick up and start beating. Mine doesn't have that. So once it gets up, it stays there. And it takes sometimes time; it takes maybe 15, 20 minutes for it to get up. So it just doesn't react like a normal heart.
You know, that first nine holes, it was catching up with my adrenaline and breathing and walking, but I think this week, it shouldn't be a problem.
Q. How do you balance --
ERIK COMPTON: Well, obviously there's a lot of great players here, but I'm competing against myself. I'm trying to do something in the world no one has ever done. I'm competing against myself. And getting out here, walking, showing other people that are going through what I have gone through, you know, to be strong, and my desire to walk and to play and to be normal; and on top of that, trying to compete with the best players in the world.
So somewhere in the mix, you get lost, and maybe you end up playing better than you expect. My talent level is there. I have the talent. It just, you know, obviously the health has been a huge problem for me. So I just think it will continue to get better in the next few years.
Q. Have you talked to anybody about maybe how to handle the situation, or is there anybody to talk to?
ERIK COMPTON: You know, I've gotten a lot of calls from people around the world that have gone through transplants or are waiting for a second transplant. Some want to go back and running and doing different things. They want to see, how do I feel.
I just try to take it day-by-day. Obviously you have to set your mind and you have to have a goal and you have to have a strong belief system. And you have to be stubborn. I'm somewhat stubborn. There are times where I feel not that great, and I just take that time to not feel good for 15 minutes and try to grind through it. You can't let little setbacks end your life. And I've had a lot of setbacks.
So you have to just keep on -- when you get your butt kicked, you have to keep getting up and going. I think that's my personality. I don't sit still. Even sitting here and talking is difficult. I want to walk and go hit shots. That's my personality, you know, to be competitive. I'll do that till the very end.
Q. Is it easier for you to not sweat the little things, where some people maybe get frustrated over every day little things, do maybe you not get as frustrated?
ERIK COMPTON: I get just as frustrated as anybody else on the golf course, or even at home. I live about just as normal a life as I can. I think the greatest personality trait that I have is that I forget things.
I can go and have a biopsy on Thursday and go hit balls Thursday night, which most people, it takes them three days to recover from. I have Charlie DeLuca back there, who is like a grandfather to me. He's gone through a lot of medical issues with his heart, and he's the same way. He has a biopsy and next thing you know, he's out hitting golf balls.
I've been around people that are fighters. I've been around public golf and been around people that have to fight to make it. I've never been handed anything. Obviously this week, I have an opportunity to have a sponsor invite, but I still have to play. So I think just being able to forget some of the bad things that have happened in my life, put them away, and look at the positive the.
Q. When was your daughter born?
ERIK COMPTON: February 22.
Q. I know a sponsor exemption is a difficult thing to turn down, but was there any thought given to maybe you were best needed at home?
ERIK COMPTON: Well, I had a sponsor invite lined up at Pebble Beach, and it just wasn't the right timing. I would have loved to play. You know, she told me and made it clear that she wanted me there before the birth, but I think now that she feels great and she's doing really well, she had a tremendous birth. She's so strong, ten pushes and the baby was out, and she feels good right now. She knows that this is for the family, that I've got to play, and this is the way I've got to try to make a living to support the baby.
I just found out a few minutes ago, I got into Bay Hill, as well, so that will be in two weeks. If I finish Top-10 here, I can get into Puerto Rico. So I've got to do it. She married a golfer, and hopefully the baby will travel with us.
Q. I think you alluded to this in some respects a couple of minutes ago, are you totally comfortable that for rest of your life, as long as you're still playing golf and in the public eye, you're going to be viewed as the transplant, instead of the pro golfer. Have you made peace with that?
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, because even if I didn't play golf and I had two heart transplants and survived a heart attack, I would be a book story, anyways. That is a bigger achievement than if I ever win a U.S. Open or the Masters. It's just, you know, the shots I hit on the golf course are nowhere near as the physical trauma I have gone through. The greatest shots I ever hit were in the hospital.
Q. Along the lines of that question, the fact that you made the cut at Disney, are you seeing these sponsor exemptions as handouts, or your golf game is starting to warrant it?
ERIK COMPTON: I think obviously if I didn't have the medical story and somewhat of a human interest story, it would be definitely to get exemptions. There's a lot of great players right now that are coming out, young guys. I'm a great player, too, but I have to kind of reestablish myself.
I mean, three years ago, I was pretty much on top of my game, playing really well on the Canadian Tour, and lost in the playoff on the Nationwide. Obviously my health held me back.
You know, that's what's great about people. You're helping people out, and you know, people have helped me out and I help them out. So for me to get into this event, you know, I'm helping the tournament out, I'm helping kids out, I'm helping a lot of people that are at home watching and needing surgery or have cancer or try to overcome something.
You know, that's what the PGA TOUR is all about. So I think it's a great fit and I think I have to continue to play well to be able to get starts and that's what I want to do is play out here permanently without having to get invites. But somebody is going to get invite every week.
Q. What's the players' reaction?
ERIK COMPTON: Everybody's really supportive out here. I think most of the veteran players, they all are aware, you know, Scott Verplank, last time I played, he asked me to put a hat in his locker so I could help him out with a friend who was waiting for a transplant. I made the cut and so I beat a lot of players the last time.
The guys know that I can play. But you know, I mean, the TOUR is a circus. Everybody has a story. I'm just another one of the guys that has a different story. I'm the guy with the heart. Some guys, you know, take a glance at me at the range and I'm just another player to them. Some guys really take into thought, oh, this guy has had three hearts in his body.
But to me, I just want to be friends with the guys and play and I'm out here to focus on my game and they are out focusing on their game.
So everybody is just trying to make it.
Q. Do you get questions or comments about your situation?
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, most of the time, guys ask me how I feel and I tell them I feel great. We talk about golf or talk about their families, or I talk about the birth of Petra and just -- I mean, I don't really like to talk too much about my health stuff.
Q. Can you talk about when you knew you would be able to play again?
ERIK COMPTON: Obviously when I did get the heart, I was really excited in the intensive care that I woke up. I was thrilled that I actually woke up. When I had a chance to go back, I knew that if things were going to go well, I would be able to play again.
You know, like I said, that goes back to how my mind is. I think I could probably have another one and still go out and play. That's just how I am, I feel like I can keep on going, keep on going.
Obviously the doctors, they perform the surgery and they advised me to take it easy lately. That's why I haven't worked out as much as I have. It's hard enough to try to be a father and a husband and have a heart transplant and try to play professional golf. It is difficult.
So I'm trying to manage all that. It's new, and I feel like if I can get through these next few months, a lot of it is going to continue to get easier and I'll be able to train a little more on my game and my physical health. Obviously I put myself third here, so more worried about my wife and the baby.
So it's just great to be out here this week and play, and hopefully with a little practice that I have, that I can have some success.
Q. (Is your goal to be able to compete for four days, or get through without a cart)?
ERIK COMPTON: For me to be able to walk four days is a part of a separate goal as competing for four days.
For me being able to walk four days and play, coming down Sunday is a huge accomplishment, and also playing. I might not perform as well if I was in a cart, yeah.
Q. Any swing change at all, or are you anywhere near as long as you were before the second transplant?
ERIK COMPTON: You know, equipment as changed a little bit since two years ago. It seems like everybody bombs it. I know I watched Rory McIlroy play, and it seems like he hits it 350 yards.
When I left the Nationwide, Camilo Villegas and I played a lot of practice rounds together and worked out together, and he was 309.9 and I was 309.8, so we always gave each other a hard time about who was longer. I don't think I'm hitting it nearly as far as that.
But you know, it is kind of cold outside, and we do play down in South Florida where there is a lot of heavy wind. But if I need to crank it out there, I think I still have good move on the ball. But it's like I'm not tournament week-to-week ready. The last time I played was Dubai, and that was kind of a weird weather situation we had out there.
So when you're playing week-in and week-out, and your game, your tempo and your rhythm gets a little bit better; as you see Tiger, he was out for eight months, and you're just not quite tournament sharp. You can practice all you want, but it's a different game. There's tournament golf and there's regular golf. As Hogan said, it's completely different things.
Q. Working under the assumption that you don't play all four days here -- do you take a week off? Do you try to do something every day? Or is it strictly based on how you feel?
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, I mean, lately I have been sleeping probably three or four hours a night and then trying to practice, so it's been a little bit -- it's been tough. But you know, you go by how you feel.
Yesterday I took the whole day off and just watched TV and relaxed. You know, went down to my parents house and had some food and just totally relaxed, because I need to get away, because like I said, I'm sort of obsessive. I'll hit thousands of golf balls and wear myself out. I played 36 two days before, and the day before that, I played 36.
You know, if you give me the opportunity, I'd just keep on going. I won't stop. My wife, my friends and my family have to say, you know, just take it easy. And I probably will not play on Tuesday or Wednesday, knowing that I'm going to play the practice round. I'm going to walk today, because I think I just need to be rested, and that's more important for the tournament.
Q. If you get into a situation where you walk on Thursday and then decide on Friday, not get, maybe you'd better go back and use the cart --
ERIK COMPTON: Through the TOUR that we have, the letter, I still have the option of using the golf cart. So if I play Thursday and I don't feel good and I wanted to ride, I can have the cart on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
But like I said, my goal is to get out of the cart and play and walk. So that would be better for Thursday and Friday, but like I said, on the weekend, that might be hard. That's where I'll lose the stamina of waking up every morning and playing. That's where I've struggled in the past.
Q. If you get into a situation where it's a long round and you get to 13 or 14 and just feeling really, really tired, can you summon a cart at that point?
ERIK COMPTON: That's a question you have to ask the TOUR. I don't know how we are going to do that, if somebody is going to follow me around or what. But I think that I would be allowed to, yeah.
Q. Are you on any medication now?
ERIK COMPTON: I'm taking beta blockers, a low dose of beta blockers.
Q. What are your thoughts on some of the current steroid problems?
ERIK COMPTON: I mean, I think it sucks. I think had I been doing steroids that helped me perform and I have medical issues; I'm taking medication that's hurting me, and guys are normal that are taking medication that's benefitting them. I'm sure we've had it out here, and now that we are doing the drug policy, people are starting to take it seriously.
In other sports, I have friends that are taking steroids and they are big superstars, and to me, they are cheating. It's like me going in and shaving a shot off my scorecard. It's upsetting, because here I am trying to compete, and other guys are cheating. I'm not saying in golf, but they are getting recognition for cheating, and they should be penalized, I think. I think it's ruined sports.
I mean, that's why I think -- we haven't had any problems with golf, but if you look at all the other sport, they are all tainted: Basketball, football, baseball. You take drugs that help you perform and recover, you know, you are ruining with history.
I obviously feel strongly because I have a disadvantage of having a medical issue, and you know, I take medications that it's actually making my muscles weaker. If I didn't have any medical issues and I was taking steroids, I mean, it would be pretty good I think.
Q. How many pills do you still have to take?
ERIK COMPTON: I take a handful in the morning, a handful in the afternoon, a handful at night. Probably 20 pills.
ERIK COMPTON: Mm-hmm.
Q. How have the last days been at home. You mentioned not much sleep, but different in the household?
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, obviously everybody has been helping. Family has been cooking a little bit, but it's difficult. But it's awesome. The greatest feeling, the greatest rush was seeing her to be born. It was very emotional for me because you know, three lives, three hearts later, I'm a part in creating a new life. Whatever happens to me, she's going to eventually know my story and she's going to know how she was brought into this world with the story.
I mean, it just, you know, I never, ever thought that I would be a father, and so I never even thought I would make it to college. As far as I've made it, and to look at her and she's healthy, and that I had a little part in it, you know, she's going to grow up and become a woman and have her own children. Somewhere along, I'll be a story, of her dad was a golfer with two transplants, and, you know, who knows? Maybe she becomes a doctor or you never know. That's how life is; it's really neat.
Q. Have you ever been approached by TV or anything?
ERIK COMPTON: They tried to do a Lifetime movie when I was 12 and doing the first surgery. Right now we are working on a book.
I think the timing is good right now to be able to tell the story with the book, and that will probably be out in about eight or nine months. John Strege is working on that and he's doing a good job.
Q. Going through what you've gone through, that's intensely personal, and sharing it in a public way --
ERIK COMPTON: Those who know me, I'm very honest. Sometimes I get in trouble because I'm too honest. But no, I think it's good to share, because it's positive. It's a good thing. I mean, it does take some guts, because sometimes you could fall on your butt when all you guys are out here and it would be somewhat embarrassing if I had a problem.
But, hey, that's the choice I've made and that's what I have to do.
Q. With the media being around since you were 12 years old --
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, I mean, the media has been great. Obviously I've made some great friends from the media and the media has been so supportive. You know, it's just like talking to friends and family. They are just sharing the story and getting it out there, because I think like I said, it's a positive story, and I'm not sitting here telling you guys, like the issue we were talking earlier about taking illegal drugs and to become better. I'm trying to make the best of a situation, so I'm the underdog.
I think being able to share my story is helping a lot of people. And that's obviously my calling is to live my life as best as I can and help others. I think that's all of our callings, and you know, we tend to forget that.
The Transplant Foundation of South Florida, they are going to be here this week. I'm the spokesperson for them. We have a license plate. I've been very involved with that, and it's helped out a lot of people. We have a golf tournament. We have actually on Friday night, which I'm going to miss, we have the Taste of Love, which is our art gallery dinner and musical thing that helps and does money. Alonzo Mourning and I are going to do some stuff on Wednesday at Aventura Golf Course, and we are going to do "Playing Lessons With the Pros." He's a transplant recipient, I'm a transplant recipient, and just to be able to help people. He's a true champion himself.
Q. I know it's been rough, but how would you assess where your game was in Dubai and since then?
ERIK COMPTON: Dubai, I hit 30 greens in two days and missed the cut. So I just putted really badly.
I think this week, it's going to be obviously very difficult. I think if you shoot anywhere around par to 10-under, you're going to be in good shape, if the weather stays like this and the course is very difficult and long. The great thing is it is on bermuda again, which I enjoy, so I feel comfortable on the greens. Just have to make the best of it and try to get up-and-down, because you're not going to hit every green. The guy who hits the most greens and gets up-and-down is going to win the tournament.
You've just got to be patient.
GARY FERMAN: All right, Erik, thank you.
End of FastScripts