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Tommy Bolt, 1916 - 2008

Temperamental golfer won U.S. Open in 1958

September 05, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Golfer Tommy Bolt, known as well for his legendary temper tantrums as for winning the 1958 U.S. Open, died Saturday in Batesville, Ark., the PGA Tour announced. He was 92.

Elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, Bolt was nicknamed Terrible Tommy for a reputation of spectacularly tossing his clubs in disgust.

"Today's players owe a debt of gratitude to Tommy Bolt and his fellow pioneers," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. "His golf prowess was only matched by his formidable and colorful personality."

Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., by four shots over Gary Player. He won 14 other times in a PGA Tour career that didn't begin until he was in his 30s, after serving in World War II and working in the construction industry.

Bolt also played on two Ryder Cup teams in competition pitting U.S. players against Europeans and won the 1969 Senior PGA Championship, but his reputation was flavored by his volcanic temper.

At the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado, he hit two balls into a lake and then threw his driver in the lake. He said he was actually aiming for a carp.

Bolt often claimed his outbursts were intended to satisfy writers and produce "good copy" for them. He also said his reputation as a bad boy wasn't because of his club tossing but because of his face.

"I only threw four or five clubs in my whole life," he told The Times in a 2002 interview. "You would think I had thrown them all. Bob Rosburg used to throw it like crazy. Jackie Burke used to raise hell. He was wild, but nobody would believe it because he had this little baby face.

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

During the interview six years ago, Bolt denied a story that after a particularly irritating round, he once threw his caddie and his bag into a lake. It seemed fitting because of his reputation.

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

Bolt once broke his putter in anger by shoving it into the ground. He was forced to use his driver as a putter on the next hole, where he made an eagle.

As for the putter, it was retrieved.

"I kicked it and left the head in the turf," Bolt said in a 1998 interview with The Times. "Took three or four guys to pull that thing out of the ground."

Born March 31, 1916, in Haworth, Okla., Bolt finished in the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list three times.

He played in 37 Senior PGA Tour events from 1980 to 1994 and wrote a book titled "The Hole Truth."

He is survived by his wife, Mary Lou; a son, Tommy; and two grandchildren.

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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