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June 14, 2010
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA
PETE KOWALSKI: We would like to welcome Erik Compton to our interview area. Erik was a qualifier and his story as you know is quite unique. He's overcome many health problems to get here and I think it's probably better that we let Erik tell the story and then we'll do it first by saying, tell us about your qualifier. Getting through to be an entrant and a member of the U.S. Open field.
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, the qualifier was Monday after Muirfield. And we were lucky to have some cool weather, not as cold as this week, but everything went as planned. Obviously to qualify was a dream come true. When you're playing the course and you're battling your emotions to play and know that to qualify for the U.S. Open here at Pebble Beach is a special place, so that just probably hasn't hit me yet. I think that the next couple rounds in the practice rounds and as the tournament comes up I think the intensity will build. I'm still trying to get rest and come off the high that I did of qualifying for it.
PETE KOWALSKI: But you had, at the Memorial you had not finished very well, correct?
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, the Memorial I played, I didn't have my best stuff, but I made the cut. And then I was, it was just a tough week with rain delays and going off split tees. I started on the 10th hole three days in a row and it seemed like I got over par before I got anything going on the first three holes.
So that tournament's in the past, and I just use it to get ready for other events. And it was frustrating, the last two years I played Muirfield the weekend has gotten me, I haven't played very well there. So while you're there and you're in the moment you're always upset with how you perform, but you got to keep on moving on and I got to look at the positive.
I played well this year and I was really proud of being able to qualify in the fashion that I did, especially after being as tired as I was on Sunday. And then on Sunday night I was hitting balls until like 9:30 on the range with a completely different set of irons. And then to qualify a good -- good rounds, people say you're only as good as your last round. And my last round has been good, so you build on that.
And every golfer, whether they're the best in the world or just a weekend golfer, gets great satisfaction out of their last shot. So Muirfield is long gone and I'm just trying to enjoy this week now and take on what I did at the qualifier.
PETE KOWALSKI: Questions for Erik, please. Just raise your hand.
Q. I understand that you were considering not going to the qualifier because you were kind of fatigued. Did Bambi change your mind on that or how did you get there?
ERIK COMPTON: Sometimes I've been known to say stuff in the heat of the moment and actually do the exact opposite. If you hear what I say to myself in the course of 18 holes maybe it's not the way, conducive of how I lived my life. But I do vent.
And quickly after I finished the round I had something to eat and you eat something you and you feel a lot better.
So I've been working very, very hard at this game for many years and I've never played in a U.S. Open, so I had worked really really hard to get through local qualifying and I didn't want to throw that away. Even though I used local qualifying as sort of a warm-up because I don't get into very many events because I didn't get through Q-School the last few years, so I'm just trying to play wherever I can, whether it's local events in Miami and then get my game sharp so when I have opportunities to do, like I did this week, or at Muirfield.
So I was going to go one way or another. I didn't sleep very well, I didn't feel that great, but the course was a little more forgiving off the tee I think than at Muirfield. And I still had six 3-putts that I was still beating myself up over on the course and managed to qualify, so.
Q. Did you use those irons in the qualifier?
ERIK COMPTON: I used the -- I used a different set of irons in the qualifier than I did in Muirfield, yes.
Q. And what was different about it? What are the irons?
ERIK COMPTON: The, well, as -- I'm not old, but as I've gotten older I'm not the same as I was when I was 20. And I switched to weaker shaft when I'm at home playing with my friends. Obviously I'm playing more golf at home with my friends than I am playing TOUR golf.
So golf is different out on TOUR, because you have adrenaline, you have whatnot. And I used the weaker shaft in Muirfield and I hit it all over the place. And I didn't really have, they didn't have a TOUR van or anything to do, to switch in the middle of the tournament, so I switched late at night on Sunday with one of the pros there.
And I went back to an X 100, which is a pretty stiff shaft. And it just tightened up my shot pattern. I didn't -- at Muirfield I was hitting it long and short and I just couldn't control it, so, yeah, I used X 100s in the qualifier and S 300s in the tournament.
Q. Same iron head in both?
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah. Just different shaft.
Q. Which iron head?
ERIK COMPTON: I used the Titleist blade, the ZM's, I think.
Q. Three questions, number one, how many times have you tried to qualify for a U.S. Open, how close have you come to qualifying before this year, and what's your anticipation like this week? Is it like it's been in previous years?
ERIK COMPTON: I've tried qualifying for the U.S. Open probably since I was 15 or 16. I did local qualifying in Miami. Never had much success. I've gotten through to sectionals before. And I lost in the playoff for a 12 for 1 spot. I had my brother on the bag and we had to come back to the next morning. And I birdied the first hole so I figured I was in the U.S. Open, but six other guys made birdie on top of me. I think I birdied the next hole and still was eliminated from qualifying.
So I probably forget how many times I've tried, because I don't want to really think about it. But Open qualifying is a very fair and very interesting concept. I think a lot of players that are on the TOUR maybe don't like it, but for the average guy like me who doesn't have any status, it gives us a chance to play. If you play well, you get in.
So looking at the guys that didn't qualify that have won tournaments this year, it's just a very difficult chance and when you do get your Willy Wonka golden ticket, like I say, to the U.S. Open, you can play and have a chance. It's just a great feeling to play in a Major, and heart transplant or not, everybody tries to play, you got 156 players and everybody around the world is hoping to play in a Major, so.
Q. Following up on that and then I have another one, where was it where you, the 12 for 1 where you made birdie, birdie and still didn't get in?
ERIK COMPTON: I think that was at the TOUR stop at Woodmont.
Q. What state is that?
ERIK COMPTON: That was in, it was right by Congressional. I know that.
PETE KOWALSKI: It's Rockville, Maryland.
Q. Do you remember what year?
ERIK COMPTON: It was probably 2003 or 2004, one of those years.
Q. If you didn't have health issues, would you be a Top-50 or a Top-100 guy on TOUR, do you have any idea?
ERIK COMPTON: Oh, I don't know. If I wasn't having the health issues I might have not ever got into golf. I was always, my big love was playing baseball and football. But golf is a very much of a mental sport and some of the things that I've had to deal with off the golf course may have given me a little bit of a tougher spirit.
I always had the ability to have good hand and eye coordination, but there's a lot of guys that have that that can't play the game of golf. So there's a lot more to it. But I'm still trying to get to be a Top-50 player in the world, but I can't tell you whether that has interfered at all.
Q. You've endured Q-School just months after having the second transplant. That was obviously a big accomplishment. But where does this rank? How would you put this among your accomplishments, getting into the U.S. Open?
ERIK COMPTON: I would have to say when I won in Morocco that was probably one of my most memorable golf moments, playing in the Walker Cup, and this has got to be in the top three, just to qualify and in the fashion that I did, just because even with my first transplant that I had walking 36 holes was an issue. I had done it, I had qualified for some U.S. Amateurs, but that was, just to make it walking when I was in a fight to get a golf cart a few years ago was pretty special.
That's why I think I was more emotional about it this time qualifying for the U.S. Open, to do it walking and competing against other guys that are, that don't have the same issue.
Q. Can you expand a little bit about getting into, just you mentioned the question before, maybe you might not have gotten into golf, do you think you would have tried to pursue the other sports earlier on? And just expand on that a little bit.
ERIK COMPTON: Yeah, well that's a good question. I don't know. You would have to ask my parents because they were the ones who were always around me pushing me into sports because that's what I was in love with was playing sports.
I wasn't much of a scholar or somebody that would sit and read a book, I was always outside playing any sport, creating my own sports. I just loved to be competitive. I think that my body was stunted quite a bit from the medications that I've taken all my life. So at five foot nine, 150 pounds I'm not exactly a baseball player at this size, but I don't know what I would be had I not gone through that.
Q. Can you just tell us quickly why did you need the first transplant, why did you need the second transplant?
ERIK COMPTON: The first transplant was done -- I had cardio myopathy dilated, which was a virus that the doctors think that I caught some time between the ages of nine, 10 or actually maybe even earlier than that. And that is what led to my first transplant.
The first transplant I had for 16 years and didn't have any problems at all. And I had a blockage in my heart which, I had a heart attack, and then slowly that heart was wasting away. So then I needed to get retransplanted.
Q. How old was the first, the second, and the heart attack?
ERIK COMPTON: The first transplant was 12, the second one I was 27, and I had had the heart attack at 27.
Q. So if I may, I know you say that everyone's trying to win their golden ticket into the U.S. Open, and then they go through the process and whatnot, but you yourself described it as a golden ticket and with that background maybe when you were 16 you didn't think about it, but when you were 27 I'm sure when you were laying there you were thinking about what your life was going to be from here on out. Could you have ever envisioned teeing it up at the U.S. Open on that day, way back when, coming off of a heart attack and facing your second heart transplant, which not many people get to one.
ERIK COMPTON: Right. You know, it's hard to say. When I was laying there in the ICU and after the transplant I pretty much had come to grips that I wasn't ever going to play golf again. I sold all my golf equipment. I didn't have any status anywhere. I did not know that things were going to turn out, that I would be getting a heart as strong as I did as quick as I did.
But in the back of your mind you're always saying, you know, I've always lived, I'm a dreamer, so I have dreamed that I could get another heart and I could come back out and play. And I think a lot of my success off the golf course has come from my dad, which has, even when I was sick in the hospital, had, was reading Golfweek to me and had a vision of me playing golf again.
He's never been a father that's been trying to tell me how to swing a club, but he's always had a vision and I think I've continued that sort of trend in the family. I'm just somebody who dreams and doesn't really worry about the consequences, deals with those later.
So that's kind of how the U.S. Open qualifier went. I just went and teed it up and wasn't worried about what if something bad would happen, I would worry about it later.
So everybody has to have a dream or some sort of vision and I think that I've been ingrained especially that I somehow I can see something and then make it happen, walk that life, to make it happen.
Now I've had a lot of luck along the way. I mean, I'm not the one performing the heart operation and putting it inside my chest, I mean I've had a lot of blessings that the doctors have done the right things and, so for whatever reason, I'm here playing this week. And a lot of it is out of my control, but I've always dreamed it.
Q. Just to pursue that, what impact has golf had on helping you get through this journey and what is it about golf that's such a motivator and such an inspiring thing?
ERIK COMPTON: Well, I mean, I love to fish and I love to do things that are very difficult. If we're going to go fishing I want to try to catch a fish with an artificial lure or something like that. And I think golf is a game where you just cannot, you can never own it, you just, you're always searching for something new and it becomes very difficult and that occupies my mind and it let's me forget about the issues that I do have.
When I play golf I'm just anxious to hit the next shot and I feel better when I'm on the course than I do when I'm at home watching TV. But when you're home, you think about the, every heartbeat that you have and every little tick that you have.
So golf has helped me to overcome mentally a lot of the scars that I do have because they are there in the back of my mind I've had a lot of traumatic things and those things don't go away, but I have been able to put it in a box and sometimes that box opens up and I deal with it on a day-to-day basis, but it's not over flowing and interfering with my life.
Q. Do you have a relationship with the donor family still at all?
ERIK COMPTON: I do. They have been following closely what's going on this week and when I was at Muirfield. And they're a very special, tight family and it's been a blessing to have -- it's just, for them to make the decision to donate their son's organs to not only save my life, but to save others. And they're a very understanding family, they understand the big picture and they understand what I'm trying to do on the golf course and they just, they have said, hey, this is, it is your heart now, so it's not -- they're just very nice family.
Q. I think your daughter was born after your second transplant?
ERIK COMPTON: Yes. Yeah.
Q. What did it mean to you at that point to become a father?
ERIK COMPTON: It was a very special year, I think, for my wife and I, for the life that she's, that she's had coming from another country and for her to be by my side, when she didn't even know I was a touring golf professional, I told her I was a teaching professional; and that I was, you know, I wasn't much to look at, I was 130 pounds probably, maybe soaking wet. And she was always very positive, very fun to be around.
I made her my focus when I was sick. She was going to school and working as well and I think that we worked great together. I think now we're sharing a child and the blessings of that, I think, the responsibilities and everything, it's been a healing process for both of us, because life goes on and you have to build a family, even though I have my issues and we enjoy the same things like couples do and we motivate each other just like -- and we fight just like couples do, we have a normal life. If you were to see how we lived at home, we're a very functional family.
So I think that I have been very blessed to have and meet somebody who I've been able to share this with. Qualifying for this tournament and being around guys like Jack Nicklaus and Chi Chi Rodriguez and Arnold Palmer, guys who really understand at the end of the day, with all their success, they understand how important it is to make a difference in kids' lives. And they have made a big difference in our lives by inviting us to tournaments and really understanding the journey that I'm on. It's just, we have been very blessed.
Q. How old are you and the rest of the year where do you play most of your golf?
ERIK COMPTON: I am 30 years old and the rest of the year is wide open. Obviously this is a great week, so I'm going to focus on this week. And I don't know where I'll be the week after the next week, hopefully I play well here and I have a ten-year exemption.
Q. Obviously it's been quite a journey for you. Can you tell me how emotional were you after you realized, particularly with all the attempts to qualify, but everything else you've been through, how emotional were you when you realized that you had qualified?
ERIK COMPTON: No, I was very emotional. Because it's something that I've worked for my whole life to play in a Major. I've been working very hard to get a PGA TOUR card and I have not had a full PGA TOUR card in my career. And that's something that I still want to do.
I'm trying to play my way on to the TOUR this year with, I made four cuts on the TOUR this year and I still feel like I have, I think I have a chance to get four more exemptions. And the U.S. Open is the biggest tournament, but there's also other tournaments that go, that I played in that I'm competing against the same guys.
So I've had success in making cuts in tournaments, but my goal is to make the cut and play well on the weekend. And if I do those things and control what I can control, I think I can play well enough to get a card out here.
So whether that's through Q-School or whether that's this week or next week or whatever, eventually I'm going to break through. And everybody has their battles and some people fight their emotional battles on the golf course, but the last, I mean I'm only two years out of the transplant and I still am fighting my physical conditioning on the weekend; and once I get that figured out, I think that I'll become a better golfer. And that's part of the process for everybody is figuring out what they can improve on.
Q. Was your dad there, did you see your dad the day you qualified, and will he be here this week?
ERIK COMPTON: My dad was not there at the qualifier. And my dad is here, he's in the back of the room with my wife and my mom and my daughter, who is at day care.
Q. Through your day-to-day just trying to become a better player and all those things, do you ever want to be or look at yourself as an example or a role model for other people about what is possible?
ERIK COMPTON: I try to do my best as an example off the golf course. I don't see myself sometimes like that, because I know I'm my own worst enemy sometimes. Sometimes I'm pretty brutal on myself.
But I know there's a lot of kids and a lot of families that are going through tough times and if they can see that I'm doing well and living a normal life, then it helps them and then I am a role model for them.
But there are a lot of people that have helped me that were role models for me that have helped me along the way. And I think it does help for somebody to see me, because it helped for me to see other guys. I had a role model when I was younger and some guys that I talked to that had transplants -- I mean, I look at Lance Armstrong, to be able to overcome what he has and still be the best. So you build on that.
Q. I know this is your first time at Pebble Beach, I do believe. Tell me what it was like to walk around the course today and did you take in some of the scenery, and the thoughts going through your mind, wow, I'm really here? I mean, describe your emotions as you did your first practice round.
ERIK COMPTON: I just had a blast. I had a lot of fun. I came out her on Saturday and sought front nine and then walked the back nine. I was a little bit tired from the trip.
Today I had a great time. I played with Nick Watney and Ben Crane and Jim McLean was following me, who I worked with for many years. Butch Harmon was following us. We just had a laugh and had a good time.
Obviously the scenery, I mean you just, you know, every time you walk the course you are mesmerized by the cliffs and you almost get dizzy just because it's so surreal. I mean, the walks are, you can see for miles and miles and see the ocean.
But then I'm trying to figure out where I'm going to hit the ball and it's just like another tournament. But it is the U.S. Open. You have the views though. But I'm just trying to take it all in and enjoy it and looking forward to playing on Thursday.
PETE KOWALSKI: Erik, thank you very much for joining us and best of luck this week.
ERIK COMPTON: Thank you.
End of FastScripts