PINEHURST, N.C. -- There would be no final-day fold from relentless Martin Kaymer, the runaway champion of the 114th U.S. Open after starting the week with back-to-back rounds of 5-under-par 65. Nevertheless, there was more than a touch of drama, much of it surrounding Miami native Erik Compton on one of the grandest afternoons of his remarkable life.
On a steamy day when Kaymer started with an insurmountable five-shot lead, all that was necessary from him over a brutally difficult Pinehurst No. 2 course was anything but a total disaster. Instead, he was hitting fairways and greens with methodical regularity on his way to a rousing final-round 69 that left him at 9-under 271 for the week, with an eight-shot victory over Compton and Rickie Fowler, who both shot 72 Sunday and tied at 1-under 279.
“I played very solid the first two days and that gave me a very nice cushion for the weekend,” said Kaymer, 29, the first U.S. Open champion from Germany who also won The Players Championship last month in Ponte Vedra Beach and took his first major at the 2010 PGA Championship. “But to shoot 1-over-par in Pinehurst on Saturday and Sunday is good. The way I played was very happy, the way I kept it together.”
Kaymer punctuated his final round with a 15-foot scrambling par-saving putt at the 72nd hole, but it was Compton who drew the loudest standing ovation of all at the 18th when he drained a six-footer to save his own par.
Fifteen minutes later, Fowler failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker when he missed a 20-footer for par, dropping a stroke and allowing Compton to claim a share of second.
“I’m relieved to be done,” Compton said when it was over. “I knew we were playing for second. I had my opportunities to put a little heat on [Kaymer], and I got it to 4-under and made a bogey. But all in all, finishing second and the up and down I made on 18, just makes the whole week really sweet.”
Compton actually was Kaymer’s closest pursuer over the first nine holes until a run of three bogeys in five holes on the back nine did him in.
Still, the 34-year-old Coral Gables resident was both emotionally drained and thoroughly thrilled with the final outcome. A two-time heart transplant survivor playing in only the second Open — and major championship — of his journeyman career, his fabulous four days here will not soon be forgotten.
“It’s a phenomenal achievement, just incredible,” said Doral teaching professional Jim McLean, who began working with Compton as a teenager. “He was a hero for me before this. Now I’m just so proud of him. It’s a huge victory for Erik. Second place in the U.S. Open is beyond anything I ever could have imagined.”
Compton’s inspirational story was told and retold all weekend on the marathon NBC telecasts of the tournament, and network cameras focused virtually on his every swing and putt in the final round.
“It’s put an unbelievable spotlight on all he’s accomplished,” McLean said. “Just unbelievable.”
Compton, one of only three players to finish the event under par, had three birdies and five bogeys. And as daylight turned to dusk late this afternoon in the Carolina sandhills, his performance over the last four riveting days earned him the best finish of his career as a PGA Tour pro, and the largest payday, as well, a check for $789,330.
But this was really not about the money for Compton, who had his first transplant at age 12 then very nearly died from a massive heart attack in October 2007 that struck as he was driving home from a lesson with his current coach, Charlie DeLucca. There was no time to summon an ambulance, and even as the symptoms got worse, he managed to make a telephone call to his mother, Eli.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to make it,’ ” Eli Compton told reporters after her son’s third-round 67 — the lowest score of the day — left him in a tie for second place, five shots off Kaymer’s 54-hole lead. “He said goodbye to all of us. I said, ‘Stop, call 911.’ He didn’t. But somehow he made it.”
The doctors kept him alive that day, and in May 2008, he had the second transplant. The donor was 26-year-old Isaac Klosterman, who had played college volleyball at Dayton and was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Compton has met members of Klosterman’s family, and two weeks ago at Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial event in Ohio, he had an emotional visit with the parents of Isaac’s fiancé.
Compton’s emotions in Sunday’s final round ran the gamut, as did his endurance, particularly on the back nine. Still, he said, thousands of fans all around constantly lifted his spirits.
“The crowd was so great,” Compton said. “On every hole from the tee box to the putting green, people were cheering for me. I definitely felt the love and support from the crowd. It seemed like the people really got around my story. For me to be here and to do this at such a high level is just as good a feeling as winning a golf tournament.”