Tommy Bolt GolfTales RJSmiley

Tommy Bolt Left A Lasting Impression!

As the re-scheduled US open draws near, my thoughts return to my two rounds with '58 US Open Champion Tommy Bolt. Bolt proved to be a perfect gentleman.

With his wiry salt and pepper hair brushed straight back after showering only a few minutes earlier, Dave withdrew the blue Crown Royal bag from the glove compartment of his emerald green Mercedes-Benz 280 3.5 SE convertible.  As I pulled into the parking lot of an exclusive Country Club near Tampa, Dave loosened the gold braided cord and removed a fruit jar full of “his jelly beans.”  His eyes danced in anticipation as he unscrewed the lid exposing the colorful assortment of prescription and non-prescription pills.  A smile, that exposed his fang-like teeth, spread across his face as he fingered the rainbow assortment of jelly beans.  He meticulously selected a brown capsule with various colored crystals visible in the clear end and two green and white capsules, then tossing his head back as he swallowing – hard – to get them down dry.  Dave nodded, “yes to himself,” and turned to me and grinned.  Thinking that Dave looked exactly like a werwolf with his pointed hairline and fanged teeth, I popped the trunk button.

Dave, the owner of an ill-fated clothing company, was opening franchise stores across Florida.  I was a lieutenant for this GREAT SALESMAN who made money fast and spent it even faster.  Dave loved women and any combination of alcohol and other mind altering drug.  But the thing Dave liked more than women, alcohol or drugs was ACTION!  He loved to gamble!  He was always watching the NFL or MLB line while he played “pitch,” often for $1.00 a point.  He loved to brag about his wins!  He loved to drop names of famous people that he had beaten (even if he lost).  Action on big name golf course was his favorite.  He was continually looking for big money games where he could partner with me.  He covered all the action.  

In Tampa, we met a kid named Mike who’s daddy owned a country club where Tommy Bolt, 1958 US Open Champion, would occasionally play.  Recently retired from the PGA Tour, Bolt, who was better known for his explosive temper than his excellent golf game, owned an executive course near the club.  Dave gave Mike a pair of double knit slacks, the hottest fashion fad of the time, then shamed him into arranging a game; Mike and Tommy against Dave and me.

The game was set with an early tee time.  (Tommy liked to get back to his executive course to Bull Shit, shake hands, and sign autographs for the players who paid the green fees as they came off the course.)  Tommy showed up, looking like the clothes horse that he was, dressed in Kelly green slacks, with the little gold buckles on each side of the waste-band, a crisp white shirt, green cap, the exact color as his slacks, and green and white patten leather shoes.  On the first tee the bet was made, $100 Nassau (best ball – no shots), automatic presses at two down; but Dave added, “either team can press at anytime!”  Agreed!!

Dave, in a fowl mood, was waiting for the speed and whatever the brown one was to kick in, road a cart by himself and served as my caddy.  Mike and Tommy had a local caddy who worked both bags, but raked the bunkers for both teams.  I have to admit that I, who choked at Q-school a few months earlier, was more than a little intimidated.  After all Tommy Bolt had won the ’58 US Open and was known for his explosive temper.  When he missed a shot – everyone in the area ducked  

Walking down the first fairway Tommy and I chatted and became instant friends while Dave hacked and pouted his way toward the green.  Having two-putted for par, I was leaning on my putter, like a cane, while I waiting for Dave to 4-putt for a snowman, Tommy caught my eye and then rolled his.  Tommy came over and whispered in my ear, “Son, (he call me ‘Son’ for two days) don’t lean on that putter you can “spring it,” you know, change the tension in the shaft.”   

On the second hole, a short, over the water par-3, Dave hit three balls in the drink.  Tommy said, “just pick it up Dave, your partner has a ball on the green.”  Dave, with a pissed-off look on his face, defiantly threw down six more new balata Titleist and proceeded to hit three more to a watery grave.  I backed away a little, waiting for “Terrible Tommy” to explode.

The day ended with Dave paying Tommy $1,100 (Bolt’s 68 beat me by 6, Mike had added 2 birdies).  Then to everyone’s surprise, Dave snarled, “same time tomorrow…. $200 Nassau!”

There was some tension in the air on the first tee the next morning, but when Tommy arrived dressed in canary yellow from head to toe, the turbulence seemed to calm.  Tommy and I enjoyed the circus-like atmosphere as a number of members had heard about the match and come to watch the action.  

The round played out as a classic match between Tommy and me.  Through 17 holes we had scored the exact same score on every hole; Dave and Mike were not a factor.  On the little par-3 6th, I had to hole a bunker shot to match Tommy’s kick-in 2.  “Nice shot Son, Tommy smiled.

On the 16th, Tommy needed to up and down his 160 yard third into a stiff Florida breeze to save his par.  He had plugged his tee shot into the face of a bunker and had to blast out.  The pin was cut back right behind a deep-faced bunker and I thought the deadlock might be broken; I had 20 feet for a two putt for par.  It was obvious that Tommy was now grinding, he threw grass up a few times then walked up the fairway and to the left, getting a better angle on the pin.  Then, after two very deliberate slow-motion practice swings, he hit a perfect shot!  The ball, that never got over 15 feet above the turf, started just left of the pin and began a soft fade, landed about two feet left of the hole and took a little hop right and sat on the lip of the hole.  “Nice par Tommy!  What did you hit?  Was it a knock-down 6-iron?”  I said.

With a self assured grin and that soft southern drawl, Tommy answered, “Naw Son, I just feathered a little 4-iron.”  The words bounced around in my head.  Feathered a little 4-iron…. feathered a  little 4-iron, I never heard of such a shot.  

We stood on the 18th, a 445 yard water guarded into the wind, monster, all square.  My honor since the first.  My safe tee shot hit the fairway but hopped left like a bunny rabbit and settled in the thick Bermuda rough.  Tommy split the center.  My approach was left and short.  Tommy’s full 4-iron, this time not feathered, found the center on the green; he had 25 feet for a two-putt par.  My chip left me 8 feet for the match-having par. Tommy had lagged to two feet.  The grain took my putt right and lipped out on the low side.  Now, Tommy faced a simple little two footer for $1,000 (Dave had pressed the back and the 18 hole bets, on #10).  When Bolt’s ball lipped out the gallery groaned.  I was relieved!

As Tommy leaned down to retrieve his ball – he looked over at me and gave me a little wink.  Terrible Tommy Bolt the 58 US Open Champion had just winked at me.

Nothing was ever said, but to this day, I believe that Terrible Tommy Bolt missed that putt – on purpose!  Tommy Bolt, with a volcanic temper, proved a “benevolent canary.”

When we returned to the office, Dave, with an unfiltered Camel in one hand and a glass Chivas Regal in the other, gathered his entourage and told the story of Bolt, the ’58 Open Champion, choking with a 3-putt on 18 while Dave won, five ways, with an up-and-down par from the bunker.

“Feathered a little 4-iron,” still rattles around in my brain.

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