Where life begins at 50

Arnold Palmer made his debut among the game's senior-citizen demigods, but Tommy Bolt—Art Wall were the heroes
May 04, 1980

The Legends of Golf is an event that stands alone as an old-fashioned sportswriter's dream, for it gives new life to all the clichès that made the game what it is today. The people who covered it last week at Onion Creek Country Club south of Austin, Texas should have worn the crests of antique Underwoods on their blazers as they followed Tempestuous Tommy (Thunder) Bolt and silent Art Wall Jr. to victory over Slammin' Sam Snead and lean Don January after three rounds of play that was only legendary at the top.

Throughout the rest of the field the tournament had such dignitaries as colorful Jimmy Demaret, golf's goodwill ambassador, and burly Mike Souchak and squire Gene Sarazen and Dr. Cary Middlecoff, the golfing dentist, all hacking around like the worst partners you could draw in a pro-am. At the end, Demaret had the best line to sum it up, something to the effect that closest to the flag on a par-3 should have won the free use of a hearse for a year.

But it was a serious competition between the two strongest teams, Bolt-Wall and Snead-January, while the others had a more or less nonstop cocktail party and jovial reunion. After Friday's first 18 holes, Bolt and Wall were tied with Snead and January with 10-under-par 60s. After Saturday's second round, Bolt and Wall trailed Snead and January by three strokes because they—mostly January—had fired another 60 while Tommy and Art had fallen back with a paltry 63.

Then came Sunday's final round. Bolt, 62 years old, and Wall, 56, were off with a sprint, making birdies on four of the first eight holes, and they not only overtook 67-year-old Sam and 50-year-old Don, but they also never surrendered the lead again. The Bolt-Wall team's closing 64 gave them 23 under par, a two-stroke victory and $35,000 apiece.

Better still, it enabled Bolt to beat two people he enjoys beating as much as he enjoys wine, Slammin' Sam Snead and a new Legends entrant, a fellow named Arnold Palmer. (One becomes eligible for the Legends when he turns 50, and Arnold hit five-oh on Sept. 10, 1979.)

The incomparable Arnold Palmer, comma, and steady Dow Finsterwald were a team, and they finished third, a whopping 10 strokes behind the winners. However, statistics-keepers were quickly reminded that Arnold's $20,000 check was his largest tournament payday in quite a while. Of course, Palmer can get $20,000 for going to a luncheon next week if he chooses to.

The Legends is a best-ball competition, and the legends who get invited, some of whom are either legends or the legendary friends of colorful Jimmy Demaret, get to ride in golf carts and put the ball in their pockets when they wander too deeply into the woods. Slammin' Sam teamed up with Gardner Dickinson, Ben Hogan's protègè, to win the first Legends two years ago.

In 1979 Tempestuous Tommy (Thunder) Bolt and silent Art Wall Jr. hooked up in a sudden-death playoff with Argentina's Roberto de Vicenzo, the happy Latin, and phlegmatic Julius Boros; the teams matched pars on the 1st extra hole, then matched birdies for the next four before de Vicenzo made his fifth straight birdie on the sixth hole to win the tournament.

There was much teasing and discussion this time when Snead dumped his old partner, Gardner, in favor of a younger Don January, who still plays the PGA tour quite regularly. Snead wanted to get an edge because he knew how hard Bolt and Wall had been working—for three months—to get ready for the '80 Legends. Bolt, in fact, had long since announced to anyone who cared to listen that he and Art were going to win.

"Snead's already asked for Nicklaus in 1990," colorful Jimmy Demaret said.

The way Bolt and Wall teamed up throughout the 54-hole event, it wouldn't have made any difference if Snead had Tom Watson for a partner. Bolt and Wall bogeyed only two holes. When they went out on Sunday morning they quickly began their brother-in-law act, with Art always letting Tommy play first because "he's looser that way."

Art birdied the 1st and 4th holes, and then Tommy birdied the 7th. Art birdied the 8th, 9th and 10th, after which Tommy birdied the 13th and saved par with a fine long-iron shot to the 14th green. By then they already had the two-stroke lead they would win by.

Having made a bunch of birdies and an eagle the previous day, Slammin' Sam Snead, the West Virginia hillbilly, and lean Don January could only manage a one-under 69 on Sunday. Just a day earlier January had chipped in for an eagle three on 18 to give them the three-shot lead that Bolt and Wall had to overcome.

"I figured we were the favorites all along," Bolt said later. "And I'll tell you, this $35,000 is the most money I've won since I used to hustle at Memorial Park in Houston."

Part of the charm of the Legends of Golf is seeing the names that have meant so much to the wire services through the years. The teams for last week's tournament included: squire Gene Sarazen and Australian Jim Ferrier; bespectacled Jerry Barber—or diminutive, one always forgets—and lame-armed Ed Furgol; mighty-mouse Bob Toski and long-hitting Chick Harbert; Walter Burkemo, the match-play king, and burly Mike Souchak; Little Poison Paul Runyan and Lighthorse Harry Cooper, always a bridesmaid; deliberate Chandler Harper and squat Ted Kroll; Dr. Cary Middlecoff, the golfing dentist from Memphis, and long-hitting George Bayer; fast-playing Doug Ford and methodical Bob Hamilton; Dan Sikes, the golfing lawyer, and Gardner Dickinson, Ben Hogan's protègè; colorful Jimmy Demaret, golf's goodwill ambassador, and gentlemanly George Fazio; Freddie Haas Jr., the former amateur veteran, and handsome Dick Mayer; rapid Robert Rosburg and unknown Jack Fleck, a municipal-course pro from Davenport, Iowa; Australian Peter Thomson and Australian Kel Nagle; Jackie Burke Jr., the pro from Boys Town, and determined Bob Goalby; Arnold Palmer, comma, and steady Dow Finsterwald; trumpet-playing Lionel Hebert and combat veteran Jay Hebert; Slammin' Sam Snead and lean Don January; phlegmatic Julius Boros and Roberto de Vicenzo, the happy Latin gaucho; and the winners, Tempestuous Tommy and silent Art. One amateur team was entered, the distinguished Bill Campbell and the mysterious Lew Oehmig.

The only legends who have continually been missing from the Legends are Bantam Ben Hogan, the wee icemon, and Lord Byron Nelson, the mechanical man of golf.

In a way, the real spirit of the Legends tournament was in the Onion Creek locker room, where Lighthorse Harry Cooper, always a bridesmaid, spent his time getting everyone's autograph, where long-hitting Chick Harbert would watch Palmer's television golf lesson and holler out, "Oh my God, it's in the water," and where everyone marveled at how the presence of Arnold Palmer, comma, had tripled the Austin galleries over the two previous years.

The colorful Jimmy Demaret, who in many ways is the guiding force behind the tournament, highlighted Sunday's action by oversleeping and being late for his tee time. In a thousand years in the game, it was the first time Demaret had ever been late, even though he had never missed a party during his fertile years as a star. So the gentlemanly Fazio went out alone and parred the 1st hole. Demaret showed up on the 2nd tee and immediately led the team to four straight bogeys.

Squire Gene Sarazen also overslept, but people figured that was O.K. because Gene is 78. His partner, Australian Jim Ferrier, didn't par the 1st hole; Ferrier made an eight. Sarazen joined him and they steadied themselves for a 77, nailing down last place by eight shots.

What the Legends has done, of course, is start a trend toward a "senior tour." There will be at least four other $100,000 tournaments in the U.S. this year for the 50-and-overs.

For the Tempestuous Tommy (Thunder) Bolts and silent Art Walls and Slammin' Sam Sneads and lean Don Januarys who can still play the game, this is a very good deal. But as Jackie Burke Jr. was saying late Sunday evening, "A senior tour? Hell, I spent all my life trying to get away from these guys."

It was clear from the enthusiasm of the crowds—the three-day turnout was 63,000—that Arnold Palmer, comma, had made the tournament a financial success, finally, in a city that rarely gets excited about anything that doesn't involve a University of Texas athletic team.

Tempestuous Tommy (Thunder) Bolt, on the other hand, relished saying that while the folks still squealed at Arnie hitching up his trousers, "They can't find no division he can win."

"No, Arnold's my friend," Tommy said. "I'm glad he brought all these folks out here so they could watch us beat him."

Did Bolt enjoy beating Arnold more than Sam?

"I guess Sam'll go to Gene Littler next year," Bolt smiled.

In response to this, Slammin' Sam Snead said, "Art Wall is a nice man. I'm glad he won."

Actually, the sportswriters won—years ago.

TWO PHOTOSTempestuous Tommy (above) did the talking for the winners, with silent Art's tacit acquiescence. PHOTOArnold tried out Slammin's sidesaddle stroke.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)