Not so many months ago Tommy Bolt was making his typically temperamental splash on the professional golf circuit. There was his memorable 18th hole in the National Open at Cherry Hills Country Club where he hit two balls into the water, then threw his driver in after them and walked off the course. Earlier he had smashed another driver to splinters in the Desert Classic. And he had damaged U.S.-South African links relations almost beyond repair by insulting galleries, tournament sponsors, his hosts and the rather adequate young native he was playing against, Gary Player.
This spring, however, there is a new Tommy Bolt who is keeping his temper and playing fine golf in spite of some unusual provocations. In the Houston Classic Bolt was lining up a shot on the last green when somebody shouted, "Putt, you ham!" In the horrible silence that followed Bolt merely walked over to the scorers' table and said to an official: "By jingo, these people ought to give me a break. I'm a human being, too."
The next week at San Antonio he was trying to hit a recovery shot from beneath a tree. He asked the gallery to move back. It didn't move far enough, and his shot hit a paying patron square in the chest, then bounced into an unplayable lie—which cost two strokes. Bolt whispered to his partner, Jimmy Demaret, "I kinda held myself in there, didn't I, Jim? I'm really improving."
Always a player who would have won much more money if he had lost his temper less, Bolt is reaping dividends from his self-control. He is hitting his irons more crisply and accurately than any golfer on the circuit today. His wayward woods, cause of so much of his past grief, are not putting him in trouble so often. Going into the Las Vegas tournament he had won $14,676.67, fifth best among U.S. money winners.
Throughout the Tournament of Champions, Bolt's face was a constant grimace of strain and pain, as if the course, the gallery and the whole world were in league against him. But not even when his ball bounced off a willow tree and into a lake—with a national TV audience looking on—did his composure crack. Finishing second by one stroke, he won another $5,000. The new Tommy Bolt is something to see. But look quickly, while it lasts.