By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The Masters occupies a special place in every golfer's heart.
For twice transplant recipient Erik Compton it is a place shared with Isaac Klosterman, the young man whose heart is beating inside the body of Compton as he prepares to realize a lifelong dream and tee up at Augusta National.
"It's kind of hard to believe that my first Masters is at 35 and everything that I've gone through; and there's times where I never thought I would ever play in the Masters," Compton told reporters following a practice round on Monday at stately Augusta.
"I think it's a real treat to get an invitation to play in this tournament just because of how hard it is to get in here."
Few athletes in any sport have overcome more daunting hurdles to reach their goals.
Compton was nine when he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle is inflamed and unable to pump blood as hard as it should.
He underwent his first transplant in 1992 at the age of 12.
In 2007 he suffered a heart attack and drove himself to hospital. Seven months later, he had his second transplant and received the heart of Klosterman, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
"Definitely been a roller-coaster of emotions," said American Compton whose mother is Norwegian.
"I think there was times where it was tough to watch it on TV, as a player but not as a fan.
"It was a bit difficult to watch so many years and think; I'm never going to play in the Masters, just because of other issues that I've had."
A Masters invitation is widely considered one of the greatest honors in golf but after two transplants Compton would argue there are far bigger gifts.
While a sight of an Augusta envelope in the post can make grown men giddy, Masters invites must be earned.
Compton's pass was not given for a lifetime commitment to golf, his unwavering persistence or the courageous pursuit of his dreams.
Like everyone else in the elite field, the 35-year-old American earned his place, earned courtesy of a runner-up finish behind Germany's Martin Kaymer at last year's U.S. Open.
"I look at myself as a golfer who has used golf as a means to maybe put some of the tough stuff that's happened to me in the past," Compton said.
"It's every boyhood's dream to play in the Masters.
"It's almost like Disney World for a golfer. You get this, like it's too perfect."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)