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Erik Compton can see Pinehurst ‘picking the story,’ as it did for him in 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. – Erik Compton texted Ernie Els early Wednesday to reminisce about a memorable start to what turned out to be an unforgettable week.

Compton, who was playing his third full season on the PGA Tour in 2014, teamed with Els during a practice round at the ’14 U.S. Open to beat major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

“They were like, who is this guy?” Compton recalled. “Ernie was laughing because he and I had a relationship and I’d played practice rounds with him.”

It’s one of countless memories Compton has from his runner-up finish, a career high-water mark on the biggest stage. In fact, Compton said he thinks about the ’14 U.S. Open almost every day, and it’s on his mind even more so with the championship’s return to Pinehurst No. 2.

Compton isn’t in North Carolina this week. He has his hands full preparing and playing in the Korn Ferry Tour event in Kansas. Still, the memories of that ’14 championship are never far off. The second-round 68 that set the stage for a special weekend; the third-round 67 to move to within five shots of front-runner and eventual winner Martin Kaymer; the sliding 8-footer for par on the 72nd hole to secure his runner-up finish — his best showing in 169 PGA Tour starts; and the fans who embraced his story so thoroughly.

“I remember how much my adrenaline was running that whole week and how I was able to control my nerves,” Compton told Golf Channel. “I think about it all the time because it was such a great memory for me and the family. My caddie and I talk about it all the time. For a guy like me, that was the professional highlight of my career, but not my life.”

Compton is, by any definition, a medical miracle having survived two heart transplant surgeries, the first coming when he was 12 years old. The second surgery came in 2008 which made his performance in ’14 at Pinehurst such a storybook moment.

The professional fairytale didn’t continue, though, as he lost his card after the 2015-16 season and has since primarily been competing on the KFT. On the personal side, in August 2023, he was arrested on felony and misdemeanor domestic violence charges.

His road has never led back to Pinehurst. He planned to request an exemption from local qualifying this year but there was a “miscommunication” between he and his manager and he missed the deadline to apply. The USGA does grant special exemptions into the U.S. Open, like the association did this year for Tiger Woods, but that also requires a player to apply before the May 15 deadline.

“He didn’t apply for [an exemption] and didn’t get his entry in in time,” said USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer. “Our special exemption [into the championship] process is really laddered up to special — some assume it’s a sponsor exemption, but it is a criteria that we use that is extraordinary, particularly at the U.S. Open and USGA championships. Majors, world No. 1, Tour wins, we look at all of that. If you look at who we give it to, it’s pretty rare. It would have been a tough bar but we’re going to miss him and we told him that.”

Instead, Compton said he’s looking forward to watching how the course plays this year compared to 2014.

“I’m more interested in watching the guys play and seeing how they do. There are so many guys who I can see do what I did. I can see Harry Higgs making a similar run,” he said. “I can see the golf course picking the story; Pinehurst is one of those courses anybody can have a great week.”