Tommy Bolt 1916 - 2008

imageTommy Boot, winner of the 1958 US Open passed away on Saturday. He was 92.

In a ten year span beginning in 1951, Bolt won 15 times on the PGA Tour. A member of the US Ryder Cup teams in 1955 and 1957, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002 by the veterans committee.

Some considered his swing to be second only to Sam Snead’s for its ease and fluidity. Like Snead, that may explain his relative longevity. He didn’t start on the PGA Tour until age 34, but was able to still compete well into his fifties. He finished third at the PGA Championship in 1971 at age 55.

Unfortunately, Bolt is perhaps best remembered for his temper, earning him the nickname “Terrible Tommy.” He had a face that has been described as easily showing anger and crowds often egged him on, hoping to see him throw a club.

Bolt was self depreciating about his anger, though, once quipping “Always throw clubs ahead of you, that way you won’t waste any energy going back to pick them up.” and advising players to “Never break your driver and your putter in the same round.”

He later contended that the club throwing was as much a bit of showmanship as anything else. In a 2002 Golf Digest interview, he said:

It thrills crowds to see a guy suffer. That’s why I threw clubs so often. They love to see golf get the better of someone, and I was only too happy to oblige them. At first I threw clubs because I was angry. After a while it became showmanship, plain and simple. I learned that if you helicopter those dudes by throwing them sideways instead of overhand, the shaft wouldn’t break as easy. It’s an art, it really is.

Bolt also penned a book called “How To Keep Your Temper On The Golf Course.”

Still, many believed that his anger kept him from winning more tournaments. Ben Hogan said: “If we could’ve screwed another head on his shoulders, Tommy Bolt could have been the greatest who ever played.”

Bolt was instrumental in the creation of the Champions Tour through his participation in the inaugural Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, where he paired with Art Wall against Julius Boros and Robert De Vicenzo.

I’ve always thought of Bolt as one of the most interesting players of his age—one whom, like Don Cherry and Jimmy Demaret added extraordinary color to the formative years of the PGA Tour. I first heard of him when I heard a coaching colleague describe one of his players as a “female Tommy Bolt.” That was enough for me. I went right out and read everything I could about the guy.

Bolt was an original, and of the sort that the plain vanilla PGA Tour could occasionally use, just to spice things up.


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