PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — When Erik Compton strolls up to the first tee at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday, he'll be in some unfamiliar territory.
The only other time he played in one of golf's biggest events was four years ago.
He missed the cut.
But if you're expecting Compton to be overwhelmed by this U.S. Open moment, think again. This guy has faced much more daunting challenges than a major championship — such as undergoing two heart transplants.
"I've been through some tough times," said Compton in what qualifies as a colossal understatement. "I'm just happy to be our here playing and feeling strong."
Compton is the only golfer at Pinehurst on heart No. 3, which gives him a unique perspective.
"There's something to be said for going through what I've gone through," he said. "When you step on the tee, you're not intimidated by other people, you're not intimidated by the situation."
Diagnosed with heart disease as a child, Compton received his first transplant at age 12. Sixteen years later, he suffered a major heart attack but managed to drive himself to the hospital quickly enough to extend his life with another transplant.
Now 34, he has qualified for his second U.S. Open, giving him a chance to promote a cause that is certainly dear to him — organ donation — while inspiring others to keep pursuing their dreams even when life deals them a cruel hand.
"Most people don't survive a widow-maker heart attack," Compton said, referring to the ominous nickname for the condition that nearly claimed his life in 2008.
Yet there he was on Tuesday, playing a practice round with good friend Ernie Els and two other major champions from South Africa, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. As the group walked away from the 18th tee, someone shouted out, "Go Dawgs!" — a reference to Compton's college days at the University of Georgia.