'Tempestuous Tommy' Bolt Dies At
92September 3, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Former U.S. Open champion Tommy Bolt, who
was best known for his fiery on-course temper more than for
his playing ability, died Aug. 30 at the age of 92 in
Batesville, Ark. According to his wife, Mary Lou, his
"liver shut down."
While Bolt claimed 15 PGA Tour victories, his career was
highlighted by a four-stroke triumph over Gary Player in the
1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
That title, along with two Ryder Cup appearances in 1955 and
'57, helped Bolt get inducted into the World Golf Hall of
Fame in 2002.
"Tommy was a perfectionist," said USGA Executive Director
David Fay. "Coupled with his fiery temperament, this resulted
in fewer trips to the winner's circle than one might have
expected from such a superb ball-striker. I know he was very
proud to carry the title 'U.S. Open Champion.' His talent
with the golf clubs was just one element of what made him
such a compelling, talked-about personality. The Tommy Bolt
stories are legend and, for me and countless others, his
stories and tales brought - and will continue to bring -
smiles and laughs. The golf world has lost a ray of color and
style with the passing of Tommy. He was unique and
he'll be missed."
Hardly anyone gave Bolt much thought prior to the '58 Open.
His penchant for throwing clubs had earned him such nicknames
as 'Tempestuous Tommy,' 'Thunder and Terrible,' which isn't
exactly a good prerequisite for the mental grind and patience
required for winning the National Open.
But when Bolt was on his game, he could seriously play with
the elite pros as evidenced by his 12 PGA Tour victories
since 1951. Coming into this Open, however, Bolt had only
hoisted a trophy twice since July of 1955, claiming the
Eastern Open in July 1957 and the Colonial National
Invitational a month prior to arriving in Tulsa.
And the conditions certainly didn't appear conducive for a
player with a short fuse. The heat and high winds of the
Oklahoma summer had branded the 1958 championship as the
"Blast Furnace Open." Yet the combustible Bolt somehow
maintained his cool, opening with a pair of 71s to hold a
one-shot advantage over Player, who posted five birdies over
his second nine for a second-round 68.
Bolt still could not fully shake the competition after a
third-round 69. He owned a three-stroke lead over southern
Californian Gene Littler, whose blistering 67 kept him within
shouting distance. But that afternoon - in those days the
U.S. Open had a 36-hole finish - Littler fell away with a 76,
while Bolt carded a 72. He was the only player in the field
not to shoot 75 or higher on a course that featured a
brutally hard rough. He also was the first player since Ben
Hogan in 1953 to hold at least a share of first place after
As Bolt was en route to the title, New York columnist Jimmy
Breslin needled him with "You're going to win it, you ought
to throw a club!"
Bolt would only win twice more in his PGA Tour career: the
1960 Memphis Open and '61 Pensacola Open, although he tied
for fourth at the 1961 Masters and shared eighth at the '65
Masters. In 1971, he finished third at the PGA Championship.
Getting Into The Game
Like 1969 U.S. Open champion Orville Moody,
who passed away Aug. 8
, Bolt was born in Oklahoma on March 31, 1916, and later
served in the United States Army during World War II. As a
youth Bolt worked as a caddie at Shreveport (La.) Country
Club, where 1929 U.S. Open runner-up Al Espinosa helped
shaped the course of his future. Espinosa wore wingtip golf
shoes and had, according to Bolt in a November 2002
interview, "the biggest golf bag I've ever seen before or
since. â€¦ I thought he was the biggest man in the world. That
was when I decided to be a golf player."
During World War II, Bolt spent part of his duty as the golf
pro at a course in Rome, Italy. The course only had 16 holes
because Italian dictator Benito Mussolini didn't want his
subordinates watching golf, so he shut down the two holes
that weren't concealed by trees.
By then, Bolt had already built a reputation for being a
hustler. As a stellar amateur player back in Louisiana prior
to the war, he often sold the first-place merchandise before
the competition ever started. With the cash in hand, Bolt
focused hard on winning to avoid getting in trouble with the
individual who had purchased the prize.
In Italy, Bolt built a craps table at the golf course to give
the soldiers something to do on furlough.
"Man did I get rich," said Bolt in
"I left Italy with a footlocker crammed full of cash."
Upon his return to the U.S., Bolt decided to turn
professional, but did not join the PGA Tour until 1950 when
he was 34.
Those fledgling days on tour were met with plenty of
agonizing moments, which led to anger and clubs being tossed.
At first, Bolt threw clubs out of frustration, but in later
years, it became more entertainment with the spectators. And
it grew into an art form that Bolt passed on to fellow pros,
including a young Arnold Palmer. Bolt was fined and suspended
several times by the PGA Tour. He set up a special fund from
his winnings to pay the fines.
"[The fans] love to see golf get the better of someone, and I
was only happy to oblige them," said Bolt, whose first
victory came at the 1951 North and South Open, which,
ironically, was the same event where Ben Hogan got his
initial win 11 years earlier. "I learned that if you
helicopter those dudes by throwing them sideways instead of
overhand, the shaft wouldn't break as easy."
As a senior golfer, Bolt won the 1969 PGA Seniors'
Championship, the 1980 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf (with
Art Wall) and the Demaret Division of the Liberty Mutual
Legends of Golf in 1995 with 1955 U.S. Open champion Jack
Fleck. He also won the 1978 Australian Seniors.
He also wrote a book about his golf experiences entitled "The
Bolt is survived by his wife, Mary Lou, and one son, Tommy W.
Bolt. A private graveside service was held Sept. 2 at the
Evening Shade Cemetery in Arkansas.
DavidShefteris a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with
questions or comments at