Tommy Bolt sat in the center of a group of callers who had gathered in the waterfront backyard of his home in Crystal River, Fla. There had been some small talk, but now there was a lull in the conversation. There was no sound except the call of a faraway bird. The river, deep and clear, sparkled in the late-morning sun. A light breeze came up. It was a rare moment of tranquillity. Suddenly Tommy Bolt jumped from his chair, extended his arms appealingly and cried out: "Let's everybody just relax! There's no need for pressure here. Remember, pals, Rome wasn't built in a day, and it took Wagon Train two years to get through Kansas."
Everybody present promptly went into action. Tommy Walker Bolt, not quite 3, picked up a golf club, swung himself completely around and sat down heavily. His mother, Mary Lou Bolt, wearing a beach robe over her swimsuit, gathered up the iced-tea glasses and hurried into the house. Jim Wright, who handles Tommy Bolt endorsements and manages his business enterprises, pulled out a notebook and began scribbling rapidly. A man from a golf cart company rummaged in his briefcase. Lou Cappola, the high school football coach, got up and shook himself. A city man fumbled for a cigarette, lit up and inhaled deeply.
Tommy Bolt was visibly pleased by all these small activities. Obviously, at age 44, he had cast himself in a new role. A man notorious for his horrendous temper tantrums on the golf course, he was now, consciously or unconsciously, dedicated to stirring up other people in order that he might calm them down.
In his time, Bolt had played many another part: the poor boy on the move with his family through Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas; the caddie who saved up his tips to buy his first set of clubs in partnership with his brother; the worker on construction jobs who learned to be a carpenter; the public links player who rose to be the National Open champion of 1958; the big-time professional who has been prospering on his fringe benefits—if not in recent tournaments—ever since.
August 12, 1962
Along the way, Tommy Bolt became the pride and the despair of the world of golf. He was admired as a shotmaker of extraordinary grace and style, as a competitor who added dash and color and excitement to every tournament field, as a star who never lost his country boy's wit and charm, as a soft touch for traveling caddies and a sucker for co-signing bank loans. What shocked and unnerved the golf world was the fact that this same amiable Tommy Bolt was also capable of great and terrible rages. He broke clubs, threw clubs, hurled shoes, walked out of tournaments, and used language deemed unbecoming a men's locker room. He was fined, rebuked and suspended. His conduct was deplored in England and South Africa. Some sportswriters denounced him, others admonished him more in pain than in anger. One writer composed an open letter quoting King Solomon and beseeching reform.
Tommy always promised. Again and again he announced that he had seen the error of his ways. Sometimes he shared the credit for his "reformation" with others: perhaps with Bishop Fulton Sheen or Dr. Norman Vincent Peale or the editors of the Reader's Digest. Once he said his whole personality had been changed through a prayer for serenity that had been sent to him by a hard-drinking old buddy who had himself seen the light.
In his backyard this summer day, the 1962 edition of Tommy Bolt walked about, searching the faces of his guests for signs of worry or tension that they themselves might not yet be aware of. In his $85 fawn-colored slacks, his flaming-red sports shirt and his narrow-brim, pure-white straw hat, he looked like Li'l Abner dressed up.
He stopped and put a hand on the broad shoulder of his friend, Coach Cappola. "Don't be nervous, Lou," he counseled. "Watch that self-control. Remember what the Bible says. He that ruleth his spirit is better than he who taketh a city. He looked around to observe the effect of the quotation on the others. "I got that," he said, "from one of the open letters a sportswriter sent me."
Lou Cappola nodded. He is locally celebrated for the self-control he had shown one day two years ago when Tommy Bolt, on the bench as honorary assistant football coach, had run out on the field to tackle a runner, a show of enthusiasm which could have cost Crystal River High a 15-yard penalty, but Tommy missed the tackle.
Bolt moved over to the city man and asked: "Now isn't this better'n that old rat race up North?"
"Oh, yes," said the city man. "Why, I'm really unwinding down here. This air is just great. I'm sleeping like a top. Once I hit that old pillow I'm gone."
Bolt shook his head. "Pal," he said, "there's the cause of all your ailments."
"I haven't got any ailments," protested the city man.
"I'm referring to pillows," said Tommy. "Never sleep on a pillow, pal. It's the worst thing you can do. It leads to backaches and stiff neck. Now you listen to me. Get those pillows off your bed tonight. You call for the hotel maid and get you a bed board to put under the mattress."
"I'll do that," said the city man, rubbing the back of his neck and moving his head around in a circle.
"Or better yet," said Tommy, "get out of that bed altogether. Spread out your sheet on the floor and sleep there."
Tommy walked over to his son, still struggling with the man-size golf club. He leaned over and adjusted the child's grip. "Son," he said, "pretty soon you're going to have your own set of clubs. This old driver is just too big for you. But you keep on practicing there."
He straightened up and examined his own hands, clenching his fist, then extending his fingers and examining them closely. "I got to get in some practice this afternoon. I got to get in maybe 18. I've been doing too much automobile driving these past few days." He spread his fingers and showed them around. "You see there?" he said. "I am plainly suffering from steering-wheel grip."
"Tommy," said Jim Wright, "about this new gasoline-engine golf cart. If Mary Lou intends to use it to go shopping, we'll have to get a license plate for it. We could drive over to Inverness and pick it up right now."
"Whoa, Jimbo," said Tommy. "Let's not get stampeded here. No sweat, pal. Take it easy."
"I just meant," said Jim Wright, "that you can't drive a vehicle on the highway without a license plate. It wouldn't make a hit with the state police."
"Oh," said Tommy, "I wouldn't let that bother me. I'd drive the vehicle over to the club if I felt like it. I wouldn't care if it harelipped every cow in Texas. I'd tell those state police that I'm driving a vehicle in transit. Understand me? In transit—on my way to get a license."
"Well," said Jim Wright, "you might be able to get away with it."
"Certainly," said Tommy, walking to the bright-red golf cart. "My, my," he exclaimed, "ain't she a beauty?"
"This will be known," said the golf cart man eagerly, "as the Tommy Bolt model Caddy Car. You see your signature there with the bolt of lightning after it? Just like you sign it?"
"I believe," said Tommy, "that she'll go 96 holes on a tankful of gas?"
"That's correct, sir," said the golf cart man. "No worrying about recharging batteries. Terrific power in this engine. We've put it through some tough tests on very steep grades." "It is a beauty," said Tommy. He patted the stomach of the golf cart man. "Protein is your answer, pal."
The golf cart man flushed. "Yeah, I know. I wish I had your waistline, Tommy."
"Protein eats up fat," Tommy went on. "Now, I take but two meals a day. Just coffee in the morning, then maybe a late breakfast at the Green Tavern consisting of eggs, grits, sausage with the grease fried out and hot cornbread. Steak and possibly turnip greens or beet tops and maybe a baked potato for dinner. A little whisky will stimulate the digestive juices. Personally, I favor the brand [Haig & Haig] which used to put half a dollar in the pocket of President Kennedy's daddy for every empty bottle."
"Tommy," said Coach Cappola, "I've got to run along. I enjoyed the visit."
"Take it slow and easy, old buddy," said Tommy, putting his arm around his friend. "We live but once."
The coach walked to his car, waved and drove away.
"Pals," Tommy said solemnly, "there goes the smartest coach in Citrus County. He got along with a squad of only 15 boys last season. He is truly the miracle man of Crystal River football."
He walked over to where the city man was sitting and peered down at his scalp. "Brush the hair vigorously three times daily," he prescribed. "Before bedtime massage the bald spot briskly with the fingertips so as to stimulate the blood flow and irrigate the hair roots."
"Tommy," said the golf cart man, "we want to get some color pictures of you and the Caddy Car. Now, since you've been voted the best-dressed man in golf by your fellow pros, it will make a great shot. And we'd like to have Mrs. Bolt in the picture, too. She's very photogenic, if I may say so."
"Speak freely, pal," said Tommy. He frowned. "Only trouble with taking color pictures is I got no shoes."
"No shoes!" exclaimed Jim Wright. "Why, Tommy, what are you talking about? You must have a couple of dozen pairs of shoes in the house right now!"
"True, Jimbo," said Tommy, "but what kind of shoes have I got? Brown and whites and black and whites and all-whites, yes. But my green shoes, my blue shoes, my raspberry shoes—they are in Texas along with my other Cadillac and my Pontiac. All I got here is my conservative shoes."
"That's no problem," said the golf cart man. "We could get a good color shot of you and Mrs. Bolt sitting in the cart and the shoes wouldn't even show. Nobody would know the difference if the shoes happened to clash with the rest of your outfit."
"But I would know," said Tommy.
The city man got up from his chair and walked over, rubbing his hair.
"Tommy," he said, "may I ask just what happens when you decide to wear your—well, say, your blue shoes. Where do you go from there?"
"Oh," said Tommy, "I could go in many directions. Maybe I'd wear some dark-red, some maroon slacks and a blue shirt and a white straw hat. That's just one possibility. A lot would depend on my mood, you understand my meaning?"
"You never wear a cap anymore, I notice," said the city man. "You're like Sam Snead, he always wears a straw."
"True," said Tommy, "but our motives are different. I wear a straw as a fashion piece. Sam wears a straw hat because he is bald-headed. When he had his hair, Sambo didn't mind going bare-headed. Of course, that was long, long before my time."
"Well," said the golf cart man, "I'll get going now and line up my photographer." He drew in his stomach. "Much obliged, Tommy," he said, "for those tips about diet." He hurried away.
Tommy turned to the city man.
"Don't be embarrassed," he said.
"I'm not embarrassed," said the city man. "Why would I be embarrassed?*'
"About that shirt. You don't want to wear a long-sleeve shirt down here. Besides, the coloring does not suit you. I'll go get you a short-sleeve shirt and then we'll take a nice little boat ride on the river. Peaceful and quiet. What do you say, Jimbo?"
Jim Wright nodded. "Fine with me," he said.
Tommy Bolt walked into the house. In a moment, he was back, jingling some keys and holding out a sports shirt for the city man. "Now just slip that on," he said, "and we'll get out on that river and you'll feel all your cares and worries slip away."
The city man made the change and followed Bolt and Wright down to the dock. Moored there was a platform on pontoons. It was powered by an outboard motor.
"This is known," said Tommy Bolt, getting aboard, "as a float boat, spelled F-l-o-t-e—B-o-t-e in the advertising. It is just perfect for rivers. Now take seats there, pals, and enjoy the scenery. Jimbo, just give her a kick away from the dock."
The boat drifted out. Tommy Bolt took a seat at the steering post and inserted a key in the ignition lock. "Take notice," he said to the city man, "that we have a self-starter here. No yanking of a rope to get the outboard going." He tried to turn the ignition key, but it wouldn't turn. He scowled, but caught himself and smiled brightly.
"The lock seems to be a little stiff," he said. "In need of a little oil, no doubt." The boat drifted along the deep tropical foliage that edged the lawn on the backyard.
"The lock," said Tommy Bolt, jutting out his chin and pursing his lips, "seems to be very stiff." He struggled with the key, ducking the overhanging branches of the trees that lined the shore.
Tommy Bolt's sunburned face got redder still. "We got to stop her," he yelled, "we're liable to drift clear out into the Gulf of Mexico. I could pole her back to shore, but I got no pole." Suddenly he lunged halfway out of the boat and grabbed the branch of an overhanging tree. Hanging on desperately, he cried out, "Mary Lou! Mar-ree Lou!"
Mary Lou Bolt came running to the edge of the dock. She held something aloft in her hand. "You took the wrong keys, Tommy! Here are the boat keys!"
"Don't con a man who's conned a million," Tommy called back over the water. "The tag on these keys says boat keys!"
"I had the lock changed, don't you remember?"
"Well, this is a fine time to tell me! What am I going to do, that is the question at this present time."
"Just hold on, Tommy. I'll swim out with the keys." She tossed her beach robe aside and dived into the water. In a moment she climbed aboard and turned over the keys. Tommy tossed the old set aside and put the new ones in the lock. He turned the key and the outboard started up immediately.
"Now," said Tommy, smiling again, "we are all set. I'll turn around and take you back to the dock, Mary Lou, and I thank you kindly for swimming out."
He moved the gear shift into reverse and gave her the gun. Nothing happened. He moved the shift into a forward position and the boat drifted helplessly. He tried it again both ways.
Tommy Bolt got up from his seat at the wheel. He walked the length of the boat and back. He glanced at the receding shore. The cords in his neck stood out like pieces of garden hose. Slowly, with a kind of chilling calm, he began to recite a bill of particulars and intentions. His first act upon reaching shore, he said, assuming that he ever set foot on dry land again, would be to purchase a sledgehammer with which he would smash the outboard motor into little pieces. He might then attack the pontoons of the so-called F-l-o-t-e—B-o-t-e and sink it to the river's bottom. He raised his voice, recalling a whole list of grievances. He denounced state cops who would pinch a man for driving a dinky little golf cart without a license plate. He spoke with scorn of uppity waiters who had never heard of turnip greens. He charged that a hex hung over him in this benighted town of Crystal River. He wished never to hear the name of Crystal River mentioned in his presence again. Address all communications, he directed, to T. Bolt, Citrus County, Florida. As he paused for breath, Mary Lou Bolt, who had been hanging over the rail at the stern, inspecting the outboard, spoke up: "Tommy, I think I see what the trouble is. There's a cable tangled down there. Just a minute, I think I can fix it." She held on to the rail with one hand and leaned down to get at the cable. She straightened up, climbed back over the rail and walked to the wheel. She slipped the gear lever into reverse and the boat responded at once. She moved the lever forward and the craft moved smoothly ahead. She brought the lever back into neutral, smiled at her husband, walked to the rail and stepped over it and plunged into the water, swimming with long, graceful strokes back toward the dock.
Tommy Bolt gripped the rail and watched her until she had climbed up on the dock and turned to wave.
"Pals," he breathed, "there is a girl in a million."
He went back to the wheel and settled himself comfortably there once again. He moved the lever and the accelerator and the floating platform eased out from the shore, turned and pointed south. There was nothing said for a few moments. Then, moistening his lips, Tommy Bolt began to speak. It was a sort of soliloquy, and (as is his custom when delivering a major statement of his views) he began to enunciate with elaborate precision, lingering over syllables, spelling out words to which he wished to give particular emphasis.
"Can you beat this, pals?" he said. "Ain't this hog heaven though? Look at this river, fed by underwater springs and clear as crystal, which explains the name. Hey, did you see that old mullet jump out of the water there? Watch now, he'll jump again. There he is! Ain't that a sight? A mullet ain't a fish, though. A mullet is a vegetarian. You can't get him with a hook, you got to get him in a net. Oh, man, there goes another one!"
He looked from side to side, drinking in the sights. Suddenly, he raised up from his seat at the wheel and cried: "Look at that old pelican up there! You see him? He's getting ready to d-i-v-e. Watch him now. There he goes! Down he goes and up he comes. There's a fish in that old pelican's bill. My, the fish that are out here. Bass and red-fish and tarpon and blues and snapper and perch and I don't know what. You know we could keep going from here clear out to the Gulf of Mexico? We could, you win my watch if we couldn't. Look back now at that little old house of ours! It wasn't much of a place when we bought it, more of a fishing lodge owned by this gentleman who used it only occasionally. We've built on, we've made improvements, we've put in air conditioning and hi-fi and wall-to-wall. Mary Lou and I don't always agree on records for the hi-fi. What I favor is music that doesn't tax the mind of a man resting up after a tournament. Like that song my old buddy, Dizzy Dean, was singing on the baseball broadcast here the other day. It was entitled The Great Speckled Bird."
He stood up and turned to face the two passengers who had survived the morning.
This is the kind of country," he said, throwing out his arms, "that I want my boy to grow up in. I don't want him to be a city slicker, to grow up in some fancy suburb where you got to go around wearing a tuxedo all day long. No, pals, this is the country for me. Crystal River, F-l-o-r-i-d-a, garden spot of Citrus County! Where there's no pressure, where a man can truly r-e-l-a-x."
He swung the wheel over and turned home, a man serene, obviously safe from all further vexation. Alas, he was not. Soon after, the vexations in Crystal River multiplied again, until one day Tommy Bolt drove over to Clearwater and filed suit for divorce. Friends of the Bolts hoped that they could iron out their disagreements. Especially since one of Tommy's charges against Mary Lou was that she had—of all things—a t-e-m-p-e-r.