That Time a PGA Tour Golfer Was Fined for Farting

Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1959. The Memphis Open, the tournament later known as the FedEx St. Jude Classic, is underway. Three PGA Tour golfers stand on a green, looking over their putts. One of them, the one farthest from the hole, approaches his ball and prepares to take his stance. The other two golfers stop moving and go silent; a hush falls over the gathered fans.

Then, suddenly, a loud sound shatters the silence, taking everyone by surprise. What was it — a car backfiring? A clap of thunder, a distant gunshot?

No: Tommy Bolt farted.

Bolt was one of the bad boys of the PGA Tour in those days, a golfer known for having a great swing and a terrible temper. In fact, "Terrible Tommy" was one of his nicknames; "Thunder Bolt" was another. He also happened to be, at the time of the 1959 Memphis Open, the reigning national champion: Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open.

Bolt eventually won 15 PGA Tour titles and, many years later, was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. But his golf was always overshadowed by his club-throwing exploits and, in general, his unpredictability. Which is ironic, given that his club-throwing was quite predictable: Fans were drawn to Bolt (and promoters were willing to pay him to appear) precisely because they expected to see fireworks, and Bolt usually obliged, giving the fans what they came to see.

And, sometimes, the fans heard fireworks from Bolt, too. Flatulence was part of his act, it seems. Of course, many professional golfers have let it rip on the golf course over the years. Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, even Arnold Palmer have been caught in the act. (Gary Player tells a story of being on a green in Japan once when Palmer farted, causing the Japanese officials to rush the green, yelling at Arnie that wasn't allowed.)

When Bolt's butt trombone sounded on that green in the 1959 Memphis Open, his playing partners were startled (one blurted out, "That's disgusting") and the fans were split in their reaction. Some were laughing, others agreed it was disgusting. And at least a few ran to find a rules official.

It was certainly a rude thing to do, a breach of etiquette, to instruct your tailgunner to fire just as another golfer in the group was preparing to putt. Fellow PGA Tour pro Bob Rosburg was chairman of the players' committee at the time, a position that Rossie described as being "the judge, jury and executioner" when it came to player behavior during tournaments.

When word reached Rosburg of what happened, he raced to find Bolt. As Rosburg told it, many years later, the following exchange happened:

Rosburg: "Tom, you and I are good friends, but we've had this report that you farted on the green."

Bolt: "Oh, yeah, I just had to do it."

Rosburg: "Tom, you can't do that, not while a man is putting! You're going to be fined."

And after the tournament ended, Rosburg levied a $250 fine against Bolt for "conduct unbecoming a professional." That's how Tommy Bolt became the only golfer in PGA Tour history fined for farting — or at least, the only one we know about.

This story didn't emerge until years later, however, not until a roast of Tommy Bolt in 1988 at which Rosburg was a speaker and shared the story. Other golfers who played with Bolt over the years had their own stories about his fartknocking, though.

In his autobiography, Tony Jacklin told of standing on a tee box with Bolt when Bolt "(let) go of a long and loud fart as an official stood by. 'Do that again Bolt and I'm going to have to fine you,' said the official. Tommy grumbled and said, 'That's the trouble with you guys — you're taking all the colour out of the game.'"

According to some sources, Bolt told Rosburg roughly the same thing — "You're taking all the fun out of the game" — when Rossie confronted him that day during the 1959 Memphis Open.

Because the story didn't emerge until that 1988 roast of Bolt, Bolt wasn't asked about the incident until then. Asked whether Rosburg's account was correct, Bolt cheekily replied, "That story got blown out of proportion."

(By the way, the winner of the 1959 Memphis Open was Don Whitt, who then won the following week at the Kentucky Derby Open. Back-to-back wins — and those were the only PGA Tour wins of his career. Tommy Bolt returned to Colonial Country Club the following year and won the 1960 Memphis Open, tooting his own horn, you might say.)

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