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This is an oral history where 25 of the best golfers from the last half-century talk aobut their best moments in golf. the highlights include the greatest days of Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, and in addition to the Big Three, the book also includes first-person accounts from Tommy Bolt, Ray Floyd, Hal Irwin, Nick Price, Tom Lehman, and Hal Sutton, as well as ...
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This is an oral history where 25 of the best golfers from the last half-century talk aobut their best moments in golf. the highlights include the greatest days of Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, and in addition to the Big Three, the book also includes first-person accounts from Tommy Bolt, Ray Floyd, Hal Irwin, Nick Price, Tom Lehman, and Hal Sutton, as well as groundbreaking moments from pioneers like Lee Elder and Calvin Peete. To round out the collection, the greatest days of colorful characters like Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jerry Pate add spice and warmth to this memorable book.
About the Author:
BOB MCCULLOUGH is the author of My Greatest Day in Baseball, 1946-1997 and My Greatest Day in NASCAR. He has written about sports for a wide variety of prominent publications, including Sporting News, Sport magazine, and the Boston Globe. He lives near Boston.
During his career, Tommy Bolt was considered a first-rate shot maker, a contemporary of Ben Hogan whose golf skills often matched those of the master, with whom he dueled on several notable occasions. Bolt, who went by the nickname of "Thunderbolt," was also renowned for his temper and his penchant, early in his career, for club-throwing. For his greatest day he chose his victory over Gary Player in the 1958 U.S. Open, and he also gave a brief rundown of his greatest day playing against Hogan.
My greatest day in golf, huh? Well, when I won the U.S. Open at Tulsa, that was my greatest day.
I was playing real good when I went to Tulsa. Of course, I was born in Oklahoma, and I had a lot of people up there that I actually knew. At that point in time I was at peace, I had peace of mind, I was at peace with the world. I had complete control of my emotions and everything I was doing, it was the greatest thing in the world. I just felt like everything was gonna happen good, and consequently, if you feel that way, everything happens good.
I had my ups and downs, and so does everybody else, but this was a good week for me, and that was my goal, winning the U.S. Open. I was feeling good, and after I birdied the first hole, I felt like, well, I wonder who's gonna finish second? That's the way I felt in my mind.
Of course, I made a few mistakes out there, made some bogeys, and I missed some fairways, but instead of trying to go for the green from the missed fairway, which is a mistake in theU.S. Open, I sacrificed a stroke and pitched out into the fairway and went on and took my bogey rather than try to birdie or par the hole from a tough lie in the rough. You have to do that when you play in those major tournaments, because we're all human, and we're gonna miss some shots.
I tell you what I did on the eleventh hole, a par three hole. I missed a green to the right, just hole high to the right. The flag was on the upper plateau, the last round this was too, and there was another trap right over the green. And right over the green to the left there was another bunker, and the flag was fairly close to that, and I had a pretty tough lie in the bunker and just a little bit of green to work with.
Rather than go for the flag from there and trying to make my three, I pitched it onto the big part of the green, out of the bunker, and I almost made the putt for par, but I two-putted for a bogey from there. So I actually sacrificed a stroke rather than putting it in the other bunker and making a five, making a double-bogey. That's the way you have to play to win the Open ... you're gonna have to sacrifice some strokes. You have to concentrate, because concentration is 75 percent of golf to start with, it may go to 95 percent, that's what a mental game it is really.
I have no idea how far behind me Gary Player was—I'm telling you, I never worried about anybody else. I don't know if we had scoreboards up or not in those days, I can't remember, 'cause I didn't care, it didn't make any difference who was there, or what have you. I just knew that when I started up the eighteenth fairway, all the media joined in the back of me, you know what I mean, to walk up the fairway with me. I knew that I had won the tournament, it was my tournament to win.
The earlier rounds I shot two 71s, and I led it at 142—I was leading the U.S. Open at 142. Of course, that was a very demanding golf course, Southern Hills was, and they had really set it up pretty tough. The fairways in those days were only thirty yards wide, you had to drive the ball pretty darned good to keep it in the fairway. And the heat, it was ninety-five degrees almost every day, but there was a breeze, there was about a fifteen-mile-an-hour breeze blowing.
It suited me to a tee. It was really hard on some of the guys from the northern part of the country, because they'd never been in any weather like that—not just heated up, it was just perfect for me. I've got a little bit of arthritis in the upper part of the back, and I just love hot weather, the looser I get, the better I play. When you feel loose like that, you feel like you can swing. I'm not a wintertime golfer, that's why I live in Florida, so I can stay in this heat.
I played the course before, when I went there the first time. I had a little Indian boy caddy for me, I guess he was about fourteen, fifteen years old, and he was a good kid. I said, son, don't tell me, don't say anything to me unless I ask you. And he kept his mouth quiet, and all he did was clean the balls, and then the clubs, and carry the bags, and he was one of the best caddies I ever had, he never said a word, he was really a great kid.
I had a lot of family in Oklahoma, lot of friends too. It didn't put any pressure on me—let me tell you about friends. You see, professional golfers are performers, just like the actors. The more people you put out there pulling for you, it gives you the incentive to perform, so actually you concentrate better and you play better. Palmer became a great player because the people made him a great player—the public made him a champion. They inspire you to become a champion, to play hard, to play well.
It was the greatest feeling—winning the Open was my childhood dream. You know, when I was caddying, whenever we played on caddy's day we were always playing for the U.S. Open, for the national open. So that was my ultimate dream, to win the Open, and I just felt I had achieved it, that was the greatest feeling that a guy could have, believe me.
My first victory comes pretty close to matching winning the U.S. Open, I'll tell you that. The tournament: The North and South at Pinehurst in 1951. That was the first tournament that I won, that would be pretty close. But the U.S. Open had to be the crowning glory.
I did have a bit of a temper when I played—I've contained myself a lot. Everybody has a temper, golf is a frustrating game, and I don't know of one player that's playing out there that hasn't thrown a golf club. Show me a professional golfer who hasn't thrown a club, and I'll show you a guy that's not serious about the game.
I was reading Norman Vincent Peale, and Bishop Sheen, some sayings by them, every morning I'd read something, and I'd go out to the golf course and I'd try to live by it. And that's the way it happened, off and on, a little at a time before that tournament. I was really playing good when I went there, and I was thinking good, and feeling good.
When I left the golf course out in California to turn pro, all the weight of the world was lifted off me. I thought I wanted to be a club pro, but after one year and five hundred bosses, I said, this is not for me. Every member and all his kids are your boss, so I said, uh-uh, I'm not cut out for this. Some guys are cut out for it, some are not, and I wasn't cut out for that, so that was a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders, and I just felt at ease and free. It was a great feeling.
I never was really a good putter—I'm not a great putter. I won most of my golf tournaments for my play from tee to green. Hogan wasn't a great putter either, he only putted about 25 percent as well as some of those kids putt out there nowadays—they're tremendous putters.
We practiced our long game and tried to learn to play from tee to green—we put putting secondary. Actually, it ranks right along with your golf, all golfers neglect their short game, your better putters are the guys that are always hanging around the putting greens, always chipping and putting. But we always went to the practice tee and hit those long shots, and we neglected that part of our game.
There's fourteen different clubs in the bag, and you have to play one as equally well as you do the other, and so I neglected my short game. Hogan, I saw him practice putting a few times, but not really devoting a lot of time to it. He was out hitting balls, too, and he's the greatest player I ever played with, Hogan was. There's some good ones. Nicklaus was a great player. Nicklaus is right along there with him, but I'm happy to be ranked as a great shot maker, it's a great honor.
I do have a greatest day playing with Hogan, yes I do. In 1960, Hogan and I tied for the Memphis Open at the Old Colonial Country Club in Memphis, which was a pretty good little golf course, a very exacting little course. I shot 65 the last day to tie [Gene] Littler and Hogan, and then we played off on Monday.
I got out there the first nine holes, and boy, I was just playing super, I was making everything. I think I had about a four-shot lead over Hogan after nine holes. Littler, I was six or seven shots ahead of him, I think I got a 31 or something on the front side. That little son-of-a-gun Hogan, at the sixteenth hole, which is a par five, he put it on in two and two-putted for a birdie, and I made my five.
At the seventeenth hole, at the Old Colonial Country Club, there is a par three, about 190 yards long. We walked over to the tee, and Hogan and Littler hit their three-iron shots about fifteen feet right underneath the hole.
I'd been with Hogan just a while back, I'd taken some lessons from him—he was my tutor, in other words. And I said, it's now or never, boy. We were dead even playing seventeen, I put down a two-iron and put that left hand over on top where Hogan put it, and I hit that two-iron, I liked to hole that two-iron.
As we were walking off that tee, toward the green, he says to me, nice shot. That was the only two words he said all day. That's how deeply he concentrated on his game, he has his mind on his business. And I made that two, and I won the tournament, I think I shot 67 and he shot 68.
I won the Colonial tournament in 1958 at Fort Worth before I won the Open at Tulsa, and he and I played the last round together. I was leading him by one shot, one shot with one hole to play. Naturally he was teeing up first on the eighteenth hole there, and he was gonna show me how to turn that thing around that corner, that little dogleg left on that eighteenth hole there. Boy, he put a snapper on that jesse, boy, put it in that rough, and he come up with a double-bogey.
And I won that tournament, 'cause I was leading him by a shot when we were playing that last hole. He could still play back in those days too, he could really play from tee to green, he was good around the greens, but I guess his nerves got to him a little bit, in my book he never was a great putter. He had to have super-slick greens in order to get it to the hole.
The greatest day I ever saw him have was when he shot that 67 at Oakland Hills, and he really played great golf. From tee to green he was unbelievable, and he made a couple of putts, you know, they have slick greens. You gotta have slick greens like you have at Oakmont and Oakland Hills, like they have at the U.S. Open—then he could get it to the hole. He had such a tender touch.
Beating that man, to me, that was the greatest. That was a great achievement, believe me.
Copyright © 2001 Ron Taffel, Ph.D., with Melinda Blau. All rights reserved.
|1. Tommy Bolt||1|
|2. Billy Casper||7|
|3. Jim Colbert||12|
|4. Bruce Crampton||25|
|5. Lee Elder||32|
|6. Bruce Fleisher||43|
|7. Ray Floyd||56|
|8. Gibby Gilbert||65|
|9. Hale Irwin||74|
|10. Lee Janzen||88|
|11. Tom Kite||102|
|12. Tom Lehman||114|
|13. Wayne Levi||123|
|14. Bobby Nichols||129|
|15. Mark McCumber||136|
|16. Steve Melnyk||150|
|17. Larry Mize||162|
|18. Jack Nicklaus||173|
|19. Arnold Palmer||185|
|20. Jerry Pate||189|
|21. Calvin Peete||209|
|23. Nick Price||226|
|24. Chi Chi Rodriguez||243|
|25. Hal Sutton||245|