Bolt From the Blue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The weather at the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club was hot enough to melt the sidewalks, but Tommy Bolt kept his cool.

So you have to ask, which was more stunning? Bolt winning the Open or Bolt refraining from throwing a temper tantrum?

After all, Bolt wasn't known as "Terrible Tommy" for his good humor, but for his club-throwing, expletive-spewing, anger-management-class dropout style that made him one of the most colorful players in golf history.

And 43 years after his greatest triumph, Bolt recalls a great deal about Southern Hills, but also something about himself--his serenity.

"I was at peace with myself," he says.

In fact, about the only time he even got close to the boiling point that week was when a newspaper incorrectly reported his age as 49. Bolt, who was actually 40, questioned the offending journalist, who resorted to the only alibi he could think of. He blamed the goof on a typographical error.

Bolt began to melt down.

"Typographical error, hell!" Bolt said. "That was a perfect 4 and a perfect 9."

Bolt, 83, says Southern Hills is one of his favorite courses.

"You win the National Open someplace, you've got to like it," he says. "But I also won the [1951] North & South at Pinehurst No. 2 and the [1952] L.A. Open at Riviera, two outstanding courses, and those tournaments were bigger than the Masters in those days."

Bolt won 14 times in his professional career, but none of his victories came close to matching what he accomplished at Southern Hills in 1958. Bolt birdied the first hole and was in the lead wire to wire, sharing it with Julius Boros and Dick Metz after the first day.

When he opened a three-shot lead over Gene Littler after 54 holes, Bolt strung together four consecutive threes from No. 9 through No. 12 in the morning round of the last day (the field played 36 holes Saturday, the last day), bogeyed the 13th, then had two more threes. He finished with six threes in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine of the last round of a major.

His score of three-over-par 283 beat a 22-year-old named Gary Player by four shots. Bolt won $8,000 for his first and only major championship.

This week, Southern Hills won't be quite the same as it was when Bolt won there, not after being reworked twice, but it's close.

Back then the course measured 6,907 yards (it'll be 6,973 this week) and it was a par 70, as it is this time. Except this week's No. 5 is 50 yards longer than in 1958 and the par-five 13th is 534 yards compared to a 469-yard par four for Bolt. Also, the 16th is changed from a 538-yard par five that Bolt played to a 491-yard par four.

"It was a tough course, all right, but that's the way the USGA does things," Bolt says. "The rough is always tough and you have to drive it straight. But that's always true at the Open."

And what's going to be true this week?

"I guess Tiger Woods would be the odds-on favorite," he says. "You could probably pick Tiger Woods against the entire field and do pretty well."

When Woods and 155 others try to work their way around Southern Hills this week, Bolt will be watching . . . and he also will be remembering.

Bolt's hole-by-hole description follows: *

The Front Nine / SOUTHERN HILLS COUNTRY CLUB

Hole 1, 454 yards, par four:

"You're on an elevated tee and the fairway goes downhill and then back uphill. It's a slight dogleg to the left and you have to keep it left to avoid the bunkers on the right. The green slopes front to back. It's a good way to start."

*

Hole 2, 467 yards, par four:

"It's a tight driving hole. It's not a hard carry over some bunkers and a creek, but there's a bunch of bunkers that protect the green and you're probably hitting a long iron in there."

*

Hole 3, 408 yards, par four:

"You drive it down there and you've got a short iron left to the green, but only if you drive it well. Since it's a dogleg left, you've got to leave the ball on the right."

*

Hole 4, 368 yards, par four:

"There aren't too many good lies here because the fairway rolls. You're going to have some side hill lies, even if you put it in the fairway. The green slopes back to front, it's elevated and it's got a lot of bunkers."

*

Hole 5, 642 yards, par five:

"It was a tremendous golf hole. It doglegs slightly to the left. I was more of a left-to-right player, but I could hit it either way. That didn't bother me. It bothered the other guys. I played it in par for the tournament. You can birdie it if you hit it straight."

*

Hole 6, 175 yards, par three:

"Three kinds of trouble here . . . the wind can cause a problem, there is water on the left if you hook it and there's out of bounds behind the green. I played it one over for the week."

*

Hole 7, 382 yards, par four:

"A blind tee shot. I didn't like them. In fact, I didn't like blind second shots either. I like to have a target. A little dogleg left. I tried to get it to the top of the hill. That gives you a short iron to the green."

*

Hole 8, 225 yards, par three:

"It's a long par three and I used a three-wood. The idea here is to get your par and get the heck off the green. A two is a bonus, believe me."

*

Hole 9, 374 yards, par four:

"The wind usually makes this hole play longer, about 400 yards. You've also got an elevated green and it slopes from the back to the front. I'll tell you, after you finish the front nine, you're just glad you're halfway home."

*

The Back Nine / SOUTHERN HILLS COUNTRY CLUB

Hole 10, 374 yards, par four:

"You have to keep the ball on the fairway because the fairway slopes on this dogleg right. You need to stay to the left. You've got a short iron left, but you're hitting to a two-level green. I played it in one under for the week."

*

Hole 11, 165 yards, par three:

"Really small green and it looks even smaller if the wind is blowing, which is usually right to left. This is a tricky one, believe me."

*

Hole 12, 456 yards, par four:

"Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer always said this was one of the best par fours in the country. I sure liked it. I played it in three under for the tournament and that's where I won the tournament. It used to be a par five for the members. It's a tough hole, though, believe me. You've got a dogleg left to a blind landing area and a right-to-left sloping fairway. You can't leave your second shot short or it's either in the water or a bunker. That's double bogey right there."

*

Hole 13, 534 yards, par five:

"It's a good par five, but we played it as a par four. It was my only bogey on the back coming in the last round. Also messed up my string of threes. You can get there in two, but the green is small and it's got bunkers and water."

*

Hole 14, 215 yards, par three:

"You really have to be accurate. There is out of bounds on the left and six bunkers around the hole that make it real cozy. It's a pretty hole and a pretty good par three, I think."

*

Hole 15, 412 yards, par four:

"Boy, those greens were all pretty tough and this was one of the toughest. You could see a lot of three-putts here. I had a par, two bogeys and a birdie."

*

Hole 16, 491 yards, par four:

"We played it as a par five and about 40 yards longer. Boy, I liked that hole. I played it in two under. It's another small green. But you can do well here if you drive it good and hit a good second shot."

*

Hole 17, 365 yards, par four:

"It's a dogleg right and it's sort of tricky. If you hook it, you're in the trees. If you push it, you're in the trees or in a creek. I call it a 'position' hole. Tiger Woods will probably hit an iron. I mean, this hole is so narrow, you've got to walk single file down the fairway. It's not a hard hole if you are in position for your second shot."

*

Hole 18, 466 yards, par four:

"Uphill, an elevated green, a really good finishing hole. I think it's one of the best in the country. Reminds me of the 18th at Riviera. It plays a lot longer than it measures. The green slopes back to front. I played it in three over. I still like the hole, though. I don't hold any grudges anymore. Well, not too many."

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