Change of Heart
A transplant saved Erik Compton, the nation's top-ranked junior
It was after midnight when the phone rang. Pete Compton felt his
pulse racing as he heard the news his family had wished for and
dreaded. A boy had died in a traffic accident; now there was a
donor heart for 12-year-old Erik Compton, who needed a
transplant. Pete went to his son's dark bedroom, touched him and
said, "Erik, wake up. Now's the time."
"I know. I heard the phone," Erik said.
Today, six years later, you wouldn't know he had undergone a
heart transplant unless he showed you the scar that bisects his
chest. The 18-year-old senior at Miami's Palmetto High seems
like any other young golfer, only better--he's No. 1 in the
latest national rankings. "Without my heart problem I probably
wouldn't have discovered golf," Compton says, "so I don't regret
He was a born jock. At nine he was a Little League shortstop,
the fastest kid in school, until what appeared to be a long
winter cold turned out to be something worse. He had congestive
cardiomyopathy, a disease that made his heart expand and beat
irregularly. "By the time Erik was 11, he was in serious
trouble. He was vomiting frequently, seeing spots. Sudden death
was a real risk," says Lee Ann Pearse, who supervised the
pediatric heart-transplant program that sought to match Erik to
a donor. Yet the boy wouldn't accept his fate. "Young people
don't feel mortal," Pete Compton says. "We had trouble getting
it through his head how sick he was." Erik would sneak out to
play baseball or suddenly take off sprinting down the street,
leaving his worried family behind. Still worse was a seemingly
endless year of waiting for a donor heart. As Pearse says, "It's
awfully stressful to watch your child dying in front of you."
The call finally came at 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1992, and with
help from a police escort the Comptons gathered at Miami's
Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Erik was taken to one of a pair
of side-by-side operating theaters. First the donor's heart was
removed and placed in a freezing solution for storage. Surgeon
Richard Perryman took out Compton's diseased heart and
transplanted its ice-cold replacement. "Then we waited and
watched while the heart warmed up. When it started beating, I
think my heart skipped a beat," Pearse says.
Compton woke to a new set of challenges. The operation left him
too weak to play baseball. The drugs that suppressed his body's
urge to reject the heart made his weight shoot from 90 pounds to
130. He was ashamed to go to his sixth grade graduation looking
so fat, but responded with characteristic spirit. He gritted his
teeth and showed up.
"I was always an in-your-face kind of kid," he says. Without
baseball he needed an outlet for his competitive drive and found
it at Costa del Sol, the golf course beside the Comptons' condo.
Within six weeks of the transplant he was hitting balls,
enjoying the solitude of the driving range. In his weakened
condition he could hit a five-iron only 80 yards, but he
practiced until he could rifle a ball 190 yards with the same
club. In less than a year Compton was breaking 90. A few months
later he shot 77 and began entering local tournaments. Today his
high school coach calls him the best ball striker Miami has
produced in decades. He had top 10 finishes in six of nine
junior tournaments last year and took another giant step in the
1997-98 season when two third-place finishes, a second and a win
at the Rolex Junior Classic shot him to the top of the rankings.
"Something clicked for me this year. I stopped trying too hard,"
says Compton, whose steady nerves and surgically precise 260- to
280-yard drives are becoming the envy of the junior circuit.
He still isn't out of the woods physically. He takes 14 pills a
day to fight tissue rejection and endures an annual biopsy in
which a catheter is injected and a bit of heart tissue is
snipped off, a painful procedure he calls "emotionally tough."
Peer pressure, too, can be tough on a competitor like Compton,
who says he could do without "punks hassling me about being
'just' a golfer, just because football and baseball are the big
high school sports."
This week he's among the favorites at the Taylor Made PineIsle
(Ga.) Junior Classic, which starts on Friday. Compton was to
announce on Wednesday that he'll attend Georgia, a choice based
partly on the Athens campus's proximity to Emory University
Medical Center. "More important, though, it's where I want to
play," he says. "I used to like baseball more, but I'm all about
golf now. It's sort of a selfish game. In golf it's all on you,
win or lose. I like that." As for living with a heart he wasn't
born with, he adds, "Sure, I have my worries, but who doesn't?"
Worries? On his last trip to Disney World he rode Space Mountain
eight times in a row.
THE SHAG BAG
Another Battle: Last month, four years after the LPGA's Heather
Farr died of breast cancer, it was announced that her younger
sister had the same disease. On April 2 Missy Farr Kay, 30, the
Arizona women's amateur champion, underwent a bilateral
mastectomy. Her doctors said they were "very optimistic about
the chances for a complete cure."
Five-Peat? Laura Davies failed to win a fifth consecutive
Standard Register Ping. Now Beth Bauer gets her shot. Bauer, 18,
goes for her fifth straight Taylor Made PineIsle (Ga.) Junior
Classic title this week.
Pump You Up: When Len Mattiace hit an adrenaline-charged
nine-iron over the 17th green and into the drink at the Players
Championship, Davis Love III (below) knew how he felt. Love did
the same thing on the same hole to lose the '95 Players. "I used
to do it a lot. You hit one too solid and it goes too far," Love
says. "It's usually when you're excited, and guys with
experience factor that in. You learn to drop back a club when
you're jacked up, to hit a wedge instead of a nine."
Mistake by the Lake? After a $23 million renovation, Atlanta's
East Lake Golf Club landed the '98 Tour Championship, which it
hosts in November. Now two former caddies have sued the club for
discrimination. "They didn't drug-test any white [employees],"
says Richard Trent, who is black and was tested. Greg Giornelli,
executive director of the foundation that runs East Lake, calls
Trent and coplaintiff Andy Portilla, who is Hispanic,
"disgruntled employees trying to extort money."
Kickin' Campaign: The LPGA ad blitz started with a Nancy Lopez
TV spot ("A Hall of Famer.... Gave birth three times. Top that,
gentlemen.") and segued to a print ad trumpeting Annika
Sorenstam's politeness ("It's like getting your butt kicked by
Miss Manners"). If you guess which lines apply to Karrie Webb,
Michelle McGann and Laura Davies, we'll ask them not to kick
your butt: 1) "I want to look my best when lifting the trophy
over my head"; 2) "Stands on the tee a lot longer...waiting for
the green to clear"; 3) "Imagine a tour so tough, you finish in
the top 10 21 times and still only come in second." (Answers: 1.
McGann; 2. Davies; 3. Webb)
He Hasn't Got a Prayer: London bookies made Tiger Woods a 30-1
shot to win the Grand Slam in '97.
Or Does He? After Earl Woods called his son golf's chosen one, a
Nashville radio host began praying to Tiger on WWTN-FM. "Our
last service was the Monday before Tiger won the '97 Western
Open," John Ziegler says. "I was fired later that week, and he
hasn't won on Tour since. Coincidence? You be the judge. This
week the First Church of Tiger Woods returns on WLAC-AM--if he
wins the Masters, the evidence of his divinity will be
GOLFER ON TIPTOES
"Ballet makes me a better golfer," says Kris Tschetter, who sees
nothing frilly about the strength and flexibility she gets from
sessions at the Center for Ballet Arts near her Fairfax, Va.,
home. Tschetter, who has earned more than $1.6 million in 10
years on the LPGA tour, admits that golf was career option No.
2. As a teen she danced in The Nutcracker and other shows at
South Dakota's School of Ballet. But at 15 she missed the cut at
an audition for the elite School of American Ballet. "Life is
harsh," she says. "I switched to golf."
She won the 1992 Northgate Computer Classic and was runner-up at
the '97 Dinah Shore. But after a fatiguing final-round 77 at
last spring's Longs Drugs Challenge, she decided to ballet up to
the barre for the first time in 15 years. "I lost fat and gained
muscle," says Tschetter, who at 33 is the grande dame of her
class. "When I was a teenager, I'd see the grown women in my
classes hang back, acting shy, while I was out front ready to
go. Now I'm the shy one." A back injury kept her out of action
last week, but she expects a quick recovery. "I've learned that
if you can dance for people without losing your focus, you can
probably do anything anywhere anytime," she says.
Talk of the Townies
AN AUGUSTA STATE OF MIND
Young golfers will do anything to play at Augusta, won't they?
"No. They won't even return my calls. You'd think we were a
leper colony," says coach Jim Kelson of Augusta State, a
Division 1 college in the hometown of the Masters. Augusta
State, a commuter school, has never landed a star player from
Georgia, let alone the rest of the U.S. Last year, when four of
the nation's top 25 prospects were from Augusta high schools,
not one of the local aces even considered staying home. Kelson's
solution: He recruits overseas, where the school's name has clout.
"Watching the Masters on TV, I thought the whole town would be
heaven," says Chris Roake, who left Buckinghamshire, England, to
play at ASU. "Turns out it's a lot of concrete and fast-food
This year's Jaguars, with three local players plus three from
England and one each from Florida, Ireland and Ecuador, have
made No respect! their battle cry. Last week they were ranked
13th in the country. "We're used to getting the cold shoulder.
Now we're hot, and we're loving it," Roake says.
The Longhorns Hook 'Em Like They Never Hooked 'Em Before
The NCAA's late-signing period began on April 8, but most
top-ranked junior golfers had already made their college plans.
The most popular destination is Austin, where first-year coach
John Fields has brought in Texas's best crop since the Ben
Crenshaw-Tom Kite days of three decades ago. Fields landed David
Gossett of Germantown, Tenn., the nation's top-ranked junior at
the end of last season; No. 2 John Klauk; No. 14 Russell Surber;
and No. 15 Matt Brost, as well as Cully Barragan, an honorable
mention All-America. "Who's not going to Texas is a shorter
list," quips Oklahoma State coach Mike Holder. Defending NCAA
champ Pepperdine reeled in 7th-ranked Jason Allred plus No. 19
Michael Beard, son of ESPN announcer and former Tour player
Frank, while Southern Cal got 11th-ranked Kevin Stadler, Craig's
son, and BYU signed 41st-rated Todd Miller, son of Johnny.
THE MASTERS MASTER'S VOICE
"The boys can run faster, jump higher and run farther than in
the old days," said Bobby Jones in 1953. Ben Hogan had just
shattered the Masters scoring record by five strokes, and Jones,
with typical grace, was acknowledging the superiority of Hogan's
generation to his own. Other witnesses believed Hogan's 14-under
274, which was 12 shots better than Sam Snead's winning total of
the year before, would never be erased. Then came 1965, when
Jack Nicklaus shot 271 and Jones predicted Nicklaus would "wind
up shooting in the 50s." Nicklaus's mark stood until Tiger
Woods, four golfing generations removed from Jones, shot 270
last year. What would the event's creator have said about Tiger?
Perhaps what he said of Nicklaus: "He plays a game with which I
am not familiar."
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW KAUFMAN PUMPED Compton began playing golf as post-op therapy. [Erik Compton]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Davis Love III]
COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN GET LEGS Tschetter dances to stay fit. [Kris Tschetter wearing toe shoes]
What do these players have in common?
They're the only players to beat the rest of the field by four
or more strokes in a single round of the Masters.