Tommy Bolt, the 1958 U.S. Open champion who had one of golf's sweetest swings and most explosive tempers, died Saturday in Cherokee Village, Ark. He was 92.
His wife, Mary Lou Bolt, said he died after "his liver shut down."
"He was the best man I ever knew," she said Wednesday.
Mr. Bolt spent nearly 50 years in Citrus County and frequently played at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto. He won 15 PGA events, played on the 1955 and 1957 Ryder Cup teams and for years was co-owner of the tour scoring record, having shot 60 in 1954 at Wethersfield (Conn.) Country Club in the second round of the Insurance City Open. In 1971, at 52, he took Jack Nicklaus to the wire at the PGA Championship, losing by three on the back nine.
Yet his temper gained him the most notoriety. Nicknamed "Terrible Tempered Tommy" or "Terrible Tommy" and "Thunder," he often was fined and suspended by the tour for slamming clubs and using abusive language. He set up a special fund from his winnings to pay the fines.
"I've busted a few clubs in my time," he recalled after retiring from the tour. "I think it's all right for a man to break his golf clubs, every one in the bag if he wants to. They're his clubs. He's the one to suffer. As for throwing clubs, that's something else. That could be dangerous."
During his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, Mr. Bolt regaled the crowd with his favorite story about breaking or throwing clubs. He was playing the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, Calif., when he had 135 yards left to the 16th.
He turned to his caddie and asked for a 7-iron, and the caddied replied, "It's either a 3-iron or a 3-wood. Those are the only clubs you have left."
Mr. Bolt was born March 31, 1916, in Haworth, Okla. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and turned professional in 1946. He joined the tour in 1950 and won his first title, the North and South Open, the next year. He won at least one tournament through 1955, a year in which he won four times. In 1958, he won the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., by four strokes over 22-year-old Gary Player. He also won the Colonial Open that year. His last PGA win came at the Pensacola Open in 1961.
In a 1997 interview, he told St. Petersburg Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr there was nothing like winning the U.S. Open: "It was just unbelievable. That's what I lived for. I used to play in the caddie tournaments when I was growing up, and we always played for the national open. It was the goal for all of us.''
He won the 1969 PGA Seniors Championship and 11 other senior titles in the United States 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.
"Today's players owe a debt of gratitude to Tommy Bolt and his fellow pioneers,'' PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said. ''His golf prowess was only matched by his formidable and colorful personality, and he helped launch an era of the game's popularity that has continued for nearly half a century."
Said Jack Peter, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Hall of Fame: ''Tommy Bolt's passing is mourned by each and every member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, its staff, volunteers and undoubtedly countless golf fans worldwide. Bolt will be remembered as one of the more colorful champions our game has witnessed. His victories — whether it was winning the 1958 U.S. Open in his home state of Oklahoma or bettering his mentor, Ben Hogan, in the 1960 Memphis Open — were compelling. Those achievements, when coupled with his equally famous histrionics, are certain to maintain a legendary stature in the game's history."
Survivors include a son, Thomas Walker Bolt.