Erik Compton is the man who shouldn’t be here. Nature has tried to kill him twice, the first time at the age of 12. Now 34, he is on his third heart, donated by a former volleyball player and victim of a hit-and-run car accident six years ago.
Compton survives thanks to naturally occurring exuberance and a stack of potions that trick his body into believing the heart of Isaac Klosterman is his own. Even as we spoke in front of the clubhouse on Monday his caddie, Victor, slipped him a sachet along with his phone and a few dollar bills. The money went straight in his pocket, the sachet straight down the hatch.
Compton had just played his first 18 holes at Hoylake with golfing gentry. His story so captivated America when he led the US Open pack in pursuit of Martin Kaymer last month that Sir Nick Faldo felt compelled to show him the ropes when he pitched up at Royal Liverpool, a setting as alien to him as the heart beating in his chest.
When the call came Compton had no hesitation. “He’s a nice guy, and who better to play a round of golf with? He played pretty good, too, hit it great.”
Compton marvelled at the attention Faldo and the other members of the group, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland, attracted. While they stopped to sign balls and flags, Compton was invisible to most in the crowd, but not all.
“One woman obviously knew my story. She had a child about four years old with similar problems to me so I stopped and we spoke. I know how difficult it is for the families in these situations. If I die I’m gone, right, I don’t care. It is those left behind who suffer, so it was nice to be able to share one or two things like that with parents.”
Compton is remarkably open about his condition. When you have been as close to death as he has, celebrating the present is no hardship, and if that means talking about his lot with any who express an interest or concern, then he is happy to indulge.
“There are a lot of things they can do with drugs and such. You know in a few years from now they might even have mechanical hearts so there will be no need for the transplant. The longer I last, there are more chances for good things than bad.
“I had my bloods checked before I came out here and the doctors reckon I am fitter than I have ever been. I don’t worry too much about life expectancy. I just take the medication and listen to my doctors. It is definitely going to be around long enough to keep playing – before I decide to stop and get old like you bastards. I mean who wants to be old like you?”
At the age of nine, Compton was diagnosed with a condition called cardiomyopathy, an inflamed heart with a compromised capacity to pump, and had to wait three years for his first transplant.
“Even that came with complications. It changed my appearance, my face became bloated and I grew facial hair. My eyebrows were basically connected to the hair line. It was tough.” It took two years for the condition to settle, during which time he was forced to change schools. “Kids make fun of each other. I would have made fun of me.”
The jocularity is deeply embedded and sincere. Here is a man who understands how precious existence is and how frail the attachment to this mortal coil. When his second heart began to give way he drove himself to the hospital and in a dramatic phone call home told his parents he was dying.
He was. The doctors kept him alive temporarily with an emergency pacemaker but sent him home knowing he could not survive without a replacement heart. His first transplanted heart was 16 years in situ, a year beyond expectancy. Isaac Klosterman’s tragic death saved him. He keeps in touch with Isaac’s parents, whose support he carries with him into every tournament he plays.
This is only his third major. He almost won the last, and likes his chances here. “This is so different to what I’m used to but I love the course and so far I’m getting my ball around pretty good.” For the record, Compton went round in one under on Monday.