Erik Compton sees himself as more dreamer than role model, more of a grinder than an inspiration.
In reality, this 30-year-old golfer from Miami fits all those descriptions.
He's a 5-foot-9, 150-pound father who lives life like he's never heard the word "quit."
He's a survivor of two heart transplants who wants to make a living playing golf.
He's one of 156 players in possession of what he calls a Golden Ticket — a tee time this week at Pebble Beach to play in the U.S. Open.
Some of those tickets, of course, are more golden than others.
"I'm a dreamer," Compton said Monday after playing a practice round with Nick Watney and Ben Crane. "So I have dreamed that I could get another heart and I could come back out and play."
He is a little more than two years removed from his second heart transplant, both operations necessitated by a disease called viral cardiomyopathy, which inflames the heart and leaves it unable to pump as hard as it needs to.
When Compton was first diagnosed with the disease at age 9, he was the fastest kid at school, the best athlete, the one who played pitcher and shortstop and got picked first in the neighborhood football games.
His first transplant came when he was 12, but instead of settling for a sedentary lifestyle for their son, Peter and Eli Compton encouraged him to get back out there and try something.
Golf was the answer.
"To our surprise, he kept getting better and better," Peter Compton said.
The tenor of the conversations with other parents started to change. From, "Oh, isn't it great that Erik's out there doing things," to "When's your kid gonna stop beating our kid?"
Compton kept winning — won his way to a spot on the team at University of Georgia and a place on the Nationwide Tour and Canadian Tours in the early 2000s. Won the heart of his wife, Barbara, who knew nothing about golf when they met.
Three years ago, as Compton was wrapping up a day of fishing, he started feeling pain in his chest. His left main coronary artery — the so-called "Widow Maker" — was failing. He was having a heart attack. He drove himself through the detour-riddled streets of Miami and made it to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where doctors saved his life.
About seven months later, he had his second heart transplant. Shortly after, the Comptons had a daughter.
"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," Compton said. "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."
Within weeks of the second heart transplant, Compton was training for Q-School, trying to find his way back to the PGA Tour. He fought for the right to play using a golf cart. But at U.S. Open qualifying earlier this month, he walked, which made the success that much sweeter.
The final day of sectional qualifying is 36 holes, which for Compton equaled a 10-hour trek across the Springfield Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. It marked the first time he'd done such a thing since his second heart transplant. He won one of three spots there in a playoff, and all that came one day after finishing four rounds at the Memorial, where he'd made the cut.
He called it one of his top three golf moments.
"Just to make it walking when I was in a fight to get a golf cart a few years ago was pretty special," he said. "To do it walking and competing against other guys that don't have the same issue."
According to the American Heart Association, Compton had one of 2,163 heart transplants in the United States in 2008, and the five-year survival rate for men is 73.1 percent. As of June 2009, there were 2,791 patients on the transplant list.
So, while he doesn't want to necessarily be viewed as a role model, Compton knows his presence at the U.S. Open is a great advertisement for what is possible. His message is that becoming an organ donor is a more than worthy cause.
"It gives people faith to know that if something like this could happen to him, and he could be here, then anything is possible," Peter Compton said. "It's a legacy. He's an inspiration for people."
At 2:31 p.m. Thursday, Compton will put the tee in the ground on the 10th hole and start what he hopes will be a four-day journey that might lead to bigger things. Golf, he freely admits, is his life. Life, as he has long known, is a gift.
"I'm 30 years old and the rest of the year is wide open," said Compton, who is depending on sponsor's exemptions to get into tournaments. "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 next week. Hopefully, I play well here and I have a 10-year exemption."
He has overcome the odds before.