Tommy Bolt: The 'Terrible' Golfer Who Reached the Hall of Fame

Golfer Tommy Bolt at the 1956 Los Angeles Open tournament.
Tommy Bolt, pictured in 1956. Bettmann/Getty Images

Golfer Tommy Bolt was known for a sweet swing and a not-so-sweet temper. But he always put on a good show for the customers.

His years as a PGA Tour winner were mostly in the 1950s and included one U.S. Open victory. Later, Bolt was involved in an event that helped launch the Champions Tour.

  • Date of birth: March 31, 1916
  • Place of birth: Haworth, Oklahoma
  • Date of death: Aug. 30, 2008
  • Nickname: "Terrible Tommy" because of his on-course temper. Sometimes called "Thunder" (and in thunderbolt)  for the same reason.

Number of Wins By Tommy Bolt

  • PGA Tour: 15
  • Major Championships: 1

(Bolt's victories are listed below.)

Awards and Honors for Tommy Bolt

Biography of Tommy Bolt

Tommy Bolt started his PGA Tour career relatively late, but won enough—and generated enough attention for himself—that he was eventually voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. More than for his game, however, Bolt was known for his showmanship and his temper - a temper that earned him the nicknames "Terrible Tommy" and "Thunder Bolt."

Bolt was a regular thrower of clubs on the course. In later years, Bolt seemed to regret being known for a club-throwing temper; during his career, though, he often played it 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," Bolt is quoted as saying by the World Golf Hall of Fame.

After a while, it became showmanship, plain and simple.

Despite the temper and tantrums, and occasional blowups that cost him more wins, Bolt was respected by his peers as one of the best ballstrikers they'd ever seen.

Bolt got into golf as a caddie at age 13. Al Espinosa, who lost a playoff to Bobby Jones at the 1929 U.S. Open, visited the club where Bolt caddied. Bolt was so impressed by Espinosa's dress and manner that he resolved to become a professional golfer himself.

Slow Start in Pro Golf

That dream was delayed often, however. Bolt spent four years in the U.S. Army during World War II (in 1945 serving as head pro at a club in liberated Rome).

Then he alternated between pro golf and construction work.

He finally joined the PGA Tour full-time at age 32. His first victory came quickly at the 1951 North & South Open Championship. Bolt won three times each in 1954 and 1955, then a severe hook started popping into his game. Bolt spent an offseason practicing with Ben Hogan, who changed Bolt's grip and helped cure the hook.

Bolt Wins the 1958 US Open

Then, at age 40, Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Oklahoma.

Bolt held a 1-stroke lead after 36 holes over 22-year-old Gary Player, who was playing the U.S. Open for the first time. Following a 69 in the third round, Bolt stretched his lead over second place (Gene Littler, this time) to three strokes.

Bolt closed with a 72 and won by four over runner-up Player. It was the first-ever major championship played at Southern Hills, and a native Oklahoman won it.

Helping Launch the Senior Tour

Bolt began cutting back on his tour play after winning the U.S. Open, and his final PGA Tour victory was in 1961.

He went on to win the 1969 PGA Seniors Championship, and played a key role in the creation of the Senior PGA Tour.

In 1979, Bolt paired with Art Wall in the first Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, where the two lost a six-hole playoff for the title to Julius Boros and Roberto De Vicenzo. The next year, Bolt and Wall won the tournament.

That event got such good television ratings that it convinced PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman to support the creation of a tour for senior golfers, and the Senior Tour - what we now call the Champions Tour - was launched.

Bolt was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 2002.

Tommy Bolt Trivia

  • As far as we know, Bolt is the only professional golfer ... ever ... to be fined for flatulence.
  • Bolt was the fifth golfer in PGA Tour history to score a round of 60. He did it at the 1954 Insurance City Open. And after opening 64-62 at the 1954 Virginia Beach Open, Bolt for a time held the tour's 36-hole scoring record.

Quote, Unquote

Some of Tommy Bolt's best quotes are related to his temper and his habit of throwing golf clubs, such as:

  • "Always throw clubs ahead of you, that way you won't waste any energy going back to pick them up."
  • "Never break your driver and putter in the same round."
  • "I know you can be fined for throwing a club, but I want to know if you can get fined for throwing a caddie."

A few of Bolt's other sayings:

  • "In golf, driving is a game of free-swinging muscle control, while putting is something like performing eye surgery and using a bread knife for a scalpel."
  • "The mind messes up more shots than the body."
  • "There is no better game in the world when you are in good company, and no worse game when you are in bad company."

And a couple of observations about Bolt by his fellow-competitors:

  • Jimmy Demaret: "Bolt's putter has spent more time in the air than Lindbergh."
  • Ben Hogan: "If we could've screwed another head on his shoulders, Tommy Bolt could have been the greatest who ever played."

PGA Tour Wins by Tommy Bolt

  • 1951 North and South Open
  • 1952 Los Angeles Open
  • 1953 San Diego Open
  • 1953 Tucson Open
  • 1954 Miami Beach International Four-Ball (team tournament, partnered by Dick Mayer)
  • 1954 Insurance City Open
  • 1954 Rubber City Open
  • 1955 Convair-San Diego Open
  • 1955 Tucson Open
  • 1955 St. Paul Open
  • 1957 Eastern Open Invitational
  • 1958 Colonial National Invitation
  • 1958 U.S. Open
  • 1960 Memphis Open Invitational
  • 1961 Pensacola Open Invitational