Erik Compton: I think that I have made my mark in this game

Miami’s Erik Compton has had a few days to mull over and put in perspective what he accomplished in this year’s U.S. Open.

Helping him out, the crowd at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina had already let him know what they thought.

When Compton came walking up the fairway on the final hole of the Open, the massive gathering of fans stood and cheered and pretty much refused to stop.

“I’ve never had that feeling where people — so many people — were cheering my name, and it was just really great,” Compton said.

No, he didn’t win the U.S. Open.

Compton finished tied for second, eight strokes behind winner Martin Kaymer, but never has a golfer finishing that many strokes back attracted more attention.

That’s because Compton is a journeyman golfer — well, he was until Sunday — who has provided golf with its most interesting journey.

His story is well-known and been told often.

He has had two heart transplants in his lifetime, one at age 12 and the other at 28. That part of his life story has been told so often it sometimes grates on Compton, but he knows that his medical battle will always be a part of his identity.

He only asks for one thing.

Just don’t let his medical identity completely overshadow his golf identity.

“My mom summed it up pretty well the other night,” Compton recalled. “She said, ‘Erik’s a golfer with two transplants, not a transplant recipient that plays golf.’ ”

His Open finish gives Compton, who lives in Coral Gables and graduated from Miami Palmetto High, an automatic spot in next year’s Masters, a thought that makes him smile.

“That’s huge,” he said of playing in the Masters.

The only majors he has played in so far were two Opens, both times getting in the hard way — through qualifying.

In the 2010 Open, he missed the cut, before his tie for second place this year.

“I go from where I was a few years ago, and now I’m able to play in major championships,” Compton said. “And I think I showed the world that I’m capable of playing good golf under extreme pressure and heat, and I showed myself.

“And when I go back and assess what I did, I think there’s still some room for improvement and maybe I scared myself into thinking I can actually play this game.”

Compton almost didn’t make it into this year’s Open, advancing to the tournament through a playoff at sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio.

Not all the new-found Compton fans know this, but his heart condition affects his endurance.

Qualifying for the Open is traditionally called golf’s longest day and requires playing 36 holes in one day. That completed, Compton had to tack on two more holes in the playoff.

After starting in the morning, Compton nailed down his Open berth with darkness quickly approaching. Days like those have to exact a toll on his body.

Of his long journey, both in life and golf, Compton said, “You can’t ever give up. I mean, we all have adversity in our lives. Some are different than others. Some are more major. So, when you have disabilities or you have health issues, some days are really bad and then you have to try to make the best of it the next day and wake up and move your body.

“And I’m a perfect example of that. I’ve been on my back twice, and I never thought I would ever leave the house.

“Now, I just finished second at the U.S. Open. I don’t think anybody would have ever thought I would do that, not even myself. So, you can’t ever write yourself off, you just can’t give up.”

That said, he summed up what this year’s Open has and will mean to him.

“If I never played golf again for the rest of my life,” he said, “I think that I have made my mark in this game.”