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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A true pro, all the way

Thursday, September 11, 2008

During the golden age of golf, when Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus ruled the greens, the way a player presented himself on the course meant almost as much as their place on the leaderboard did.

But as the years have rolled on, it seems like golf course attire means less and less, with finely creased slacks and crisp shirts being replaced by faded jeans and T-shirts at a lot of country clubs.

But that was never the case with Tommy Bolt -- not during his days on the PGA Tour -- nor during his days of retirement and leisure in Cherokee Village.

"The most amazing thing was when Mr. Tommy would pull into the parking lot and get out of his vehicle that day," David Webb, PGA Professional and director of golf course operations in Cherokee Village said. "He would be dressed to the hilt -- dressed to the nine's. He looked like he was ready to step into the final pairing of the U.S. Open everytime he came to the golf course. You had no hesitation -- even if you did not know he was Tommy Bolt -- about saying, 'There's something about that guy that is sharp.' And personality-wise, when you shook hands with him, that story just continued. He was the consummate southern gentlemen."

On the PGA Tour, that "consummate southern gentleman" was every bit as feisty about his appearance as he was his short game.

"There was the time that Doug Sanders, who also was known to be a colorful dresser, came on the PGA Tour, and one day a lady questioned Mr. Tommy about how he was handling being the second-best dresser on Tour now that Sanders was on the scene," Webb said. "In true quick wit, Mr. Tommy turned to the lady and said, 'I've thrown away better clothes than what he wears.'"

And according to Webb, Bolt's sharp-as-a-tack wardrobe presentation during his retirement years was not the only remarkable thing about the golfing legend.

"His ball-striking ability was absolutely phenomenal in the years that I got to watch him on the range," he said. "He just hit shots and hit shots. Nothing was ever rushed. His time on the range was just so calm, and that's how he played golf, too. There was no hurry-up about him."

The only thing Bolt was ever in a hurry to do was help out the aspiring young golfers of the area. And his influence on those young duffers that spent time at the Cherokee Village courses on a regular basis cannot be understated. Just imagine having a Hall of Famer around, a virtual wellspring of knowledge about the ins and outs of the game, to pass his knowledge and love for the sport along to eager young students.

"Mr. Tommy would always take time to visit with all the junior players that hung around the golf shop, summer-in and summer-out, about their game," said Webb. "A lot of kids around here grew up playing golf with Mr. Tommy. For a gentleman of a different generation to take an interest in kids two generations removed, is really something special. And the sole connection there -- in addition to him being a great guy -- was the game of golf. The game removed that age span between the two generations."

Hardly sounds like someone who was feared on the course during his heyday -- for not only his game, but his fly-off-the-handle temper, as well.

"Those Tour stories were no doubt true, to some degree. Whether they were part true, or were embellished in some areas ... but all those things were always directed at himself. They were never directed at anyone else," Webb said. "They were because he didn't meet his expectations of that shot. And he always said that some parts of those stories were true, and then they became part of his marketability. But during the times I got to visit with him here, he was never out of line or off-kilter. And people that traveled in here to play golf and knew who he was would want to go down and have him sign a ball or a glove and he'd always take time to do that."

And once you were a friend of Tommy Bolt's, you were a friend of Tommy Bolt's for life, as PGA Professional and director of golf operations at The Course on Turkey Mountain, Chuck McNeight, found out.

"Tommy used to winter in Florida, and when I was down there (running a golf course) he did a clinic and an autograph session for me. And during that time, he found out my mom and dad lived in Cherokee Village," McNeight said. "About five years later, I was over here playing the South Course in Cherokee and I ran into him, our paths crossed on the course, and he goes, 'Oh, Chuck from Florida! How's your dad, Gene, doing?' I mean, I had him do one clinic and one autograph session five years earlier, and then run into him and he remembers me, my dad's name, my mom's name ... I was just amazed. He was probably 82 at the time, but he acted like we were best friends. I was just blown away."

But that was just Tommy Bolt.

"He was a very engaging man. He knew that there was more to tournament golf than just the competition," said McNeight. "He knew there was an element of show and he was very personable. I'm going to miss him."

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