Nicknames abound for Tommy Bolt-Terrible, Tempestuous, Thunder. He has affectionately been called all of them. The winner of the 1958 U.S. Open, Bolt recorded 15 victories on the PGA TOUR, twice was selected for the Ryder Cup and helped spawn the Champions Tour.
Like many of his generation, Bolt was introduced to golf through caddying. The fact that Bolt’s golf career was sidetracked a number of times before he ever had a chance to succeed makes his accomplishments more extraordinary. He never teed it up on the PGA TOUR until the relatively late age of 34. Despite lacking the money to compete on tour, Bolt was one of golf’s most determined competitors.
He spent four years in the Army during World War II, serving as head pro at one of Rome’s elite golf clubs, perfecting his game. When he returned from the war, Bolt bounced back and forth between competing on the tour and retreating to construction work when he ran out of money.
"I launched far more (clubs) because they expected me to than I did because I was mad at anything that had gone wrong with my golf. After a while, it became showmanship, plain and simple."
While his accomplishments on the golf course are noteworthy, Bolt is remembered by many for his fiery temper and his penchant for throwing clubs. Bolt taught a young Arnold Palmer and anyone who would listen “to always throw clubs ahead of you, that way you won’t waste any energy going back to pick them up.”
“I launched far more (clubs) because they expected me to than I did because I was mad at anything that had gone wrong with my golf. After a while, it became showmanship, plain and simple,” claimed Bolt.
Ben Hogan firmly believed had Bolt only been able to mask his emotions better and accept failure, his record would have been even better. “If we could’ve screwed another head on his shoulders, Tommy Bolt could have been the greatest who ever played,” Hogan once said.
It was Hogan whom Bolt credited with resurrecting his career. In 1955, perplexed by a hook that worsened under pressure, Bolt sought Hogan’s help. Often undone by the same malady early in his career, Hogan invited Bolt to practice with him during the off-season.
Tommy Bolt authored the book “How to Keep Your Temper on the Golf Course”.
“I went to him and all but got on my knees for help,” Bolt wrote in his book, The Hole Truth. “He put my left hand on top of the club, gripped it in the back three fingers of the left hand and the thumb down the shaft. It took me about a month of constant practice to get acclimated to the new grip, but I learned not to fear the hook.”
Armed with that confidence, Bolt became one of the best ball strikers of all time. He also got a grip on his temper in time to win the one title he coveted, the U.S. Open, in his home state of Oklahoma in 1958. He birdied Southern Hills’ treacherous 12th hole three consecutive times and finished four strokes ahead of Gary Player.
While the Open was his pinnacle, Bolt will tell you of another great moment in which the student bettered his mentor, Hogan, as well as Gene Littler, in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1960 Memphis Open. All even through 16, Bolt fired a 2-iron tee shot stiff to the flag on the par-3 17th. “When Ben said, ‘Nice shot!’ it was like a double clap of thunder to me,” Bolt recalled. “It was the only thing he said to me all day.”
Long before there was a senior tour, Bolt won the 1969 PGA Seniors’ Championship and 11 other senior titles in the U.S. and Australia. He was one of the pioneers of the Champions Tour, laying the groundwork in a memorable six-hole sudden-death playoff with partner Art Wall against Julius Boros and Roberto De Vicenzo in the 1979 Legends of Golf, won by Boros-De Vicenzo.
When Nielsen ratings indicated approximately six million households were tuned in, PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman was convinced to support the senior initiative, which evolved into what is now the Champions Tour.