At the rate he's been playing this summer, Erik Compton might finally become as well known for his skills as a professional player as he is for being a modern medical miracle in spikes.
The 30-year-old continued his run of improbable, headline-grabbing feats Thursday when he played his final 15 holes of the PGA Tour's inaugural Greenbrier Classic in 9 under to take a one-stroke lead midway through the first round in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Compton, the only known professional athlete to have received two heart transplants, earlier this summer defied incredibly long odds by slogging through a steamy 36-hole qualifier, plus a three-hole playoff, to earn a berth in the U.S. Open, which at the time, represented his most memorable career achievement.
In a decade of playing as a Nationwide Tour member and in sporadic PGA Tour events, the 63 represented a career-low score.
"I think every golfer knows that if you hang in there long enough, eventually you've got to have a day like I had today," Compton told the Golf Channel moments after his round.
He's not exactly every golfer, is he?
A little more than two years removed from receiving his third heart, Compton's feat in West Virginia trumps all. He was 2 over through his first three holes, then reeled off a stretch that included birdies on six of eight holes to finish with a 7-under 63, good for a one stroke lead over veterans Pat Perez, George McNeill and Ryder Cup hopeful Jeff Overton.
Compton came to national prominence in 2008, when only a few weeks after having his second transplant, he nearly played his way into PGA Tour Qualifying School finals, a feat that was tracked by several major websites and large publications.
When he was 9, Compton was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle is unable to pump effectively. His first transplant came in 1992 at age 12, and the second in 2008, months after he nearly died of a heart attack at home in Miami when the first transplant failed. He told his family goodbye before the surgery, because the outcome was by no means certain.
"I couldn't even comprehend what he has been through in his life," said the Golf Channel's Nick Faldo, a three-time major winner.
Compton, a former college star at Georgia who has labored to find a foothold in the professional game in part because of his myriad physical issues, was given the Ben Hogan Award by the Golf Writers Association of America in 2009 for his perseverance and tenacity.
After receiving his second heart, Compton has tried to gain a spot on the Nationwide or PGA Tour the past two years via the Q-school route, but failed to reach the finals. The PGA Tour was combing though its records to find the last time a player with no status on any major pro tour held an overnight lead.
He has played in six PGA Tour-sanctioned events this year, including the U.S. Open, on sponsor exemptions or via open qualifying, and made four cuts. He shot 80-70 and missed the cut earlier this month at the Reno-Tahoe Open.
"It's been great that the tournament directors and people have taken an interest in my story," he said. "And being able to help the community, visit the hospitals, and do whatever I can for the kids, you know, it's amazing how many people have reached out to me since the Open that have disabilities, that have lost loved ones, have been organ donors or recipients.
"You know, it's just a great feeling to know that when I play, that I can maybe help somebody else get out of bed and push themselves to lead a normal life."
Compton has repeatedly been slowed by fatigue in the latter stages of tournaments, a result of his condition and the litany of medications he is forced to take.
"This course ie beneficial to me," he told the Golf Channel. "Because the walk from the tee to green is not as long as they were at the Open or Reno. It's just a good course for me."
Compton respectfully responded to a delicate query about whether his mortality ever worries him when he's playing.
"I mean, I've lived most of my life with the situation that I'm in, so, no, I wouldn't say I walk around scared," he said. "If you do that, you'll shoot 85 in a heartbeat out here. You know, it is what it is. I mean, I've had to deal with death several times. I would say you get scared when you're in a situation like that. "
Compton, for all of his travails, has never once played the self-pity card. That isn't about to change.
"Everybody has some sort of a stress level out there playing. I mean, the difficult part for everyone, for every human being, is how they deal with their own body.," he said. "I've had to learn how to deal with the body that I have. It changes, you know, with this new heart that I have as opposed to when I played when I was younger. Stress and fatigue are definitely gonna be a factor.
"But your mind is a powerful thing. If you can convince yourself that you're in better shape than you are, you can maybe have some more strength. I keep myself pretty lean so my heart is not having to work overtime. I've been blessed to be lucky to heal well.
You know, every day, you know, there is adversity that I deal with.
"But I believe that everybody has something, whether it's an injured neck or foot or whatever. You just got to make the best of it. That's what the best players in the world do."