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A Good Lie

Bolt Wasn't as Awful as the Legend Goes, but He Was No Angel

July 16, 1998|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Meanwhile, meet Mr. Mean.

For the best in bent shafts, the tops in tantrums, the capital of club-throwings and pretty much the ultimate in flat-out golf course rage, you need look no further than the legendary exploits of Terrible Tommy Bolt, who wreaked havoc in the 1950s and '60s.

If your image of golf is a bunch of prissy guys in pressed pants with glued-on smiles, shaking hands and getting out of each other's way, Bolt's your anti-hero, fully prepared to set fire to that picture with a blowtorch.

Why, this guy was so downright angry that . . .

You can stop right there, says Bolt, now a mellow 80 and a respected citizen of Black Diamond Ranch near Ocala, Fla.

After all these years, Bolt says his image as a rebel has been embellished to such a point that it bears scant resemblance to the actual, certified truth.

In other words, Bolt says, he's a victim of his own legend . . . not that he doesn't sort of enjoy the whole thing, of course.

"Years ago, there were always a bunch of newspaper guys waiting for me to come off the 18th green wanting to know what I had to say, regardless of what I shot. I was what you would call 'good copy.' "

Can't imagine why. Might have been that time at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Denver when he knocked two balls off a bank into a lake, then just happened to be inspired to heave his driver at a lazy carp feeding in a pond close by.

Bolt said he was a victim of circumstance.

"Naturally, all the photographers were standing right there!" he said.

Then there was the time he told his newspaper friends that his club company in Maplewood, N.J., had two separate work shifts just to keep Bolt in clubs because he destroyed so many. Or the time he broke his putter by shoving it into the ground and used his driver to putt on the next hole, where he promptly made eagle.

But what about that poor putter?

"I kicked it and left the head in the turf," Bolt said. "Took three or four guys to pull that thing out of the ground!"

Bolt said it's easy to putt with a driver when you have no alternative, since your putter is currently residing head-down in some short grass. Bolt also discovered other clubs in his bag that come in handy as putters.

"You can putt with the sole of a sand wedge," he said. "You would be amazed!"

Of course, the fact that Bolt was an absolutely terrific golfer is sometimes lost in the heat of battle. A native of Haworth, Okla., Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa as well as 14 other tournaments in a pro career that began in 1946. But with Bolt, the emphasis often seemed to be tuned in more to his temperament than his titles.

He said he was victimized by his own face.

"Bobby Jones tossed more clubs than I ever saw!" Bolt said. "I only threw four or five clubs in my whole life! You would think I had thrown them all! Bob Rosburg used to throw it like crazy! Jackie Burke used to raise hell . . . and admit it! He was wild, but nobody could believe it because he had this little baby face!

"Now I had this big jaw, this long chin. Something happened, I did something about it! I didn't walk off like nothing happened.

"But most of it, almost all of it, it just never happened! I was supposed to have thrown my caddie and my bag in the water once. No! No! No!

"You know, I get kind of a kick out of it now. I don't guess I got too much of a kick out of it in those days!"

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