Compton, 34, had just carded a three-under-par 67 at the US Open, one of only two sub-par rounds during the third round at Pinehurst No.2, to take his place in a tie for second with Rickie Fowler, five shots behind leader Martin Kaymer heading into yesterday’s final round.
It bore obvious comparison with his only previous Major championship appearance, which had been a missed cut at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach and NBC interviewer Steve Sands understandably made it, asking the Floridian to compare his current comfort level to four years ago.
“You got to give me a break,” Compton replied at mention of his early exit from the 2010 major, “I just had a new heart when I was at Pebble Beach.”
There are not many sporting excuses to top that one and it does not even tell half the story of the man bidding to become the first sectional qualifier to win the US Open since Lucas Glover in 2009.
Because Compton is onto his third heart. He had needed a heart transplant at 12, and another aged 28 following a heart attack suffered as he was driving home from a golf lesson. It was so serious, he pulled his car over to call his mother, Eli, and say his goodbyes rather than race 20 minutes to the hospital.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to make it.’ He said goodbye to all of us,” Eli Compton said at Pinehurst on Saturday as she watched her son move onto the US Open leaderboard. “I said, ‘Stop. Call 911.’ “He didn’t. Somehow, he made it.”
That Compton did and continues to defy the odds by holding his own in a pro sport, points to determination from an early age not be a victim of his condition.
“I think that’s just the function of my make-up,” he said on Saturday night. “I told everybody I’d be a Major League baseball player at age eight. And I was serious about it. Even when I got wheeled out of the operating room and they have it on camera, I said I would still be a professional baseball player.
“My parents have always done a really great job of pushing me to be a normal kid and a normal child. Sports was something that I lived for and something that they pushed me to do. They encouraged me to play baseball, football, basketball and they were good at telling me how good I was at it instead of beating me up. I made that a focus.” Coming back from his second heart attack to earning his PGA Tour card at the 2012 Q-school, required some focus also and this year he has been getting his reward, with two top-five finishes and some memorable moments en route to his US Open appearance. “I had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield (at the Memorial Tournament) and he kind of winked at me and said, ‘Your game will suit Pinehurst.’ So he had a smile on his face and it was kind of neat to, when I qualified, I let him know that I qualified.
“The Nicklaus family has been extremely nice. A lot of the legends of the game have taken an interest in my story. I spoke with Chi Chi Rodriguez (Saturday) morning and he told me I was going to go out and shoot 64 and he told me how tough I was.
“There’s different characters of the game I feel like I’ve gained strength from and it’s nice to have the greats of the game take an interest in me.
“They know people’s backgrounds and life stories are more important than golf. But Jack, at Muirfield, had a look in his eye and... he said if I got here, I would have a special week. So maybe it’s just kind of a self-fulfilling thing that I brought on myself.”