- Kevin Maguire, Golf
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NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- Erik Compton is clearly comfortable in his own skin.
That comes with the territory after having it ripped open on two occasions to receive heart transplants -- the first one at age 12 and the second at 28.
Now 31 and just days after his first Nationwide Tour victory, a win that all but assures him a PGA Tour card for the 2012 season, Compton is playing this week's AT&T National on a sponsor's exemption.
"I'm not so much of a sideshow freak anymore," said Compton, who is paired with Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk in Round 1 on Thursday. "I've proved that I can play on the tour, so that does give me a lot more confidence."
"Freak" should never be a word used to describe what Compton has endured. How about "fighter"? Maybe "winner"? And now we can add "champion."
Compton's story is unlike any other in sports. When asked Wednesday at Aronimink Golf Club what his plans were for the coming weeks, his answer -- just like his life -- wasn't typical.
"Well, next week I have to go in and do a cardiac procedure just to check that everything is good," he said matter-of-factly. "It's my yearly checkup. So I'll be on rest for a few days there."
Really. Only a few days? Why isn't he hitting balls on the range the same afternoon after undergoing a battery of tests to make sure his heart is pumping properly?
We kid, of course, but the usual answer is something more in the realm of what tournaments a golfer's planning to play in, family vacation plans that kind of thing. Not with Compton.
It's that family that keeps him ready and focused on the tasks at hand. He makes no bones about how this will be a tough week for him because of all the travel and recent play. But he knows what he needs to recharge his batteries.
"The key is, when he goes home, he doesn't focus on golf so much," said his wife, Barbara, who was at home in Florida tracking his first victory in Mexico on the computer. "He tries to rest. He tries to be with family and friends and to distract his mind. He lets himself unwind a little bit and distract himself and gets ready for the next tournament."
With Compton, it's easy to focus on the heart transplants. But underneath the story that -- forgive the pun -- pulls at the heartstrings, lies a golfer who was the top-ranked amateur in his day.
Compton was the No. 1-ranked junior golfer in the United States growing up. He has won on the European Tour. The Hooters Tour. The Canadian Tour money list. In college. In top-tier amateur events.
Generally speaking, he's no slouch in golf or in life.
So, the obvious question is, when will the Erik Compton life story movie come out?
"I don't think there will be a movie," he said. " You have to have something that's maybe a little bit more unrealistic. But maybe if they make a fictional story and have me winning three U.S. Opens or something. We were joking last night, everybody says they want to win 19 majors. I'd just like to play in 19 majors."
More unrealistic? The fact that Compton is walking the grounds this week outside Philadelphia is miraculous enough. But doing it inside the ropes? Hollywood studios would laugh the scriptwriter out of the room at the lack of reality in Compton's tale.
Even before his victory, Compton's game had been impressive all season. He Monday-qualified to play the Northern Trust Open in L.A. and finished tied for 24th there after a final-round 64. He has made the cut in all four PGA Tour events he has played this year and has reached the weekend in all but one of nine Nationwide Tour events in 2011.
On Wednesday, he spoke of a battlefield promotion -- given to a Nationwide Tour player who wins three times in a season. That might not happen, especially if he keeps getting sponsor's exemptions on the PGA Tour. But Compton knows that his playing golf, no matter where it is, isn't just about swinging a club.
"When I go to tournaments and play on the PGA Tour, I think it makes a huge impact for people in the community," Compton said. "People find out about my story, and I think that's what the tour is all about is helping and giving back to others. So, if there's a kid in the hospital or somebody that can be affected by me playing, I think that that tournament wins every time."
No matter how he plays on the PGA Tour in 2012, Compton should have the comeback player of the year award locked up before a tee hits a tee box in January.
Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.
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