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Athletes Who Tried Their Hand at Professional Golf

By: | Tue 27 Mar 2018 | Comments

WHAT is it about golf that so many people who have made a decent living in other sports believe that once they retire from their given sport they can simply pick up a bag, hire a caddie and make a living by treading the fairways? Many have tried and, while there have been some notable successes, most of those who try end up wishing they hadn’t bothered. Football in particular boasts a large number of young men with a lot of time on their hands – time to hone their golf handicaps.

And over in America, Tony Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, is the latest to believe he can pull it off, even though he is 37 years old. He made his PGA Tour debut in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship and fired rounds of 77 and 82 to finish last. Romo unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for the US Open on three occasions. Before playing in the Dominican Republic, he said: “I’ll be treating it very seriously. My wife will tell you she hasn’t seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all I think you know if I care about something I’m going to commit to it 100 per cent. So like I said, you’ll get the best I’ve got this week.

“What I’ve done over the last few months has really been the same thing that I did in football when I was young and starting off. What do I believe in? What’s my blueprint that I’m going to follow? You’ve got to believe in something, then you’ve got to go attack it.

“Golf obviously wasn’t my sport most of my life, but I’ve put a lot of time in preparing for this. I’ll be prepared to play the best that I’m capable this week.” Hmmm…

Here we take a look at 10 sportsmen and women who gave it a crack. Those of you with a nervous disposition might want to look away now.

Stephen Grant

Stephen Grant is a former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international who had brief spells at Sunderland, Burnley and Stockport. He retired at 27 and turned to golf. His Twitter account, @soccer2golf  spells out his aim: "Ex pro soccer player trying to make it as a two-sport professional by getting my card on a major world golf tour."  He has a way to go, but four second-place finishes on the EuroPro Tour, which is golf's third tier, shows that he possesses some proper talent. He reached the second stage of qualifying school for the full PGA and European Tours. Grant also once shot a course record of 64 at Rosses Point in the West of Ireland Championship. In the field that day was some youngster called Rory McIlroy.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

It is hard to argue with the view that Zaharias was the greatest female athlete of all time, and she is easily the most successful of those who decided to follow the sun. She was the best at just about everything she attempted. Apart from her athletic achievements, she even won a sewing championship and recorded songs on the Mercury Records label, singing and playing the harmonica. She was a gifted Olympic track and field medalist, winning two gold medals and one silver in the 1932 Olympics. She also won the AAU team track and field event that year, taking six of eight events. Sportswriter Grantland Rice encouraged her to try her hand at golf, and she duly won the Texas State Amateur title just two years after taking up the game. Zaharias won 17 consecutive amateur tournaments in 1946-47. She was one of the founding members of the LPGA and won 41 professional tournaments. She was so good that Bobby Jones declared her one of the 10 best golfers of all time, male or female. Her track and field skills earned her the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year Award in 1932, and her golf skills won her the same honour five further times - in 1945, ‘46, ‘47, ‘50 and ‘54. She died of cancer at 45 in 1956.

Ivan Lendl

The Czech was a great tennis player. You only have to look at his record – he won the Australian Open twice, and the French and US Opens three times each. His only disappointment was in failing to land the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, where he twice lost in the final. He was also the man who guided Andy Murray to glory at Wimbledon, ending Britain’s long wait for a successor to Fred Perry. You would have thought that would be enough for any man. Not Lendl. A ferocious competitor, he decided that when he hung up his racket he had no interest in playing on the over-35s tour so decided to try his hand at golf. A left-hander, he played various mini tours and even received an invitation to play in the Czech Open. It was a disaster. An 82 meant he missed the cut by a mile and finally convinced him that professional golf was not for him.

Ralph Terry

A car accident ended Terry’s baseball career when he suffered a hip injury that prevented him from taking part in spring training in 1958. He decided to take up golf as part of his therapy.  As a baseball pitcher, Terry won 107 games in his 12-year career. With the Yankees in 1960, he gave up the home run to the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski that won the World Series. Two years later, he got some redemption, winning two of his three starts against the Giants in the World Series, and he was named the World Series MVP. After retiring, he turned to golf and played in five PGA Tour events but failed to make the cut in any. When he turned 50 he joined the Senior Tour and had moderate success. He played in 96 senior events with one top-10 finish.

Julian Dicks

Dicks was an uncompromising defender who enjoyed success with West Ham and Liverpool. He played more than 260 times in two spells with the Hammers and even managed to get himself onto the fringes of selection for the England team. Like many footballers of his era, Dicks had a lot of spare time on his hands and took up golf. He soon became pretty handy, quickly receding his handicap to scratch. And when his playing days ended he announced that he was going to become a professional golfer. It didn’t really go according to plan. He was forced to quit when he realised that the knee injury that had ended his football career was also hampering his ability as a golfer. He went on to manage a couple of pubs.

Esteban Toledo

As a kid in Mexico, Toledo used to swim across a river to the nearby country club and fish balls out of the water to sell back to the golfers. He eventually worked behind the bar and polished shoes,  but his first love was boxing. He was a decent lightweight before his career was brought to an abrupt halt when his appendix burst. In 1982, Toledo met Joe Minnis, who had come to check out the young golf prodigy. Minnis brought Toledo to California, offered him a place to live and paid for his tournament entry fees. Toledo turned pro when he was 23 and made the PGA Tour eight years later. He never won a PGA event but did win a Nationwide Tour tournament in 2005 as well as the 2000 Mexican Open. He is now an ambassador for the Get A Grip Foundation, which introduces children to golf and provides lessons on the sport and general education.

Frank Conner

Conner is one of an elite group to have competed in the US Open at both tennis and golf. He won the US National Junior tennis title when he was 17 and would go on to play in the US Open on three occasions, but he graduated from college he decided that there was probably more money to be made from playing golf. Four times he failed to get through qualifying school until in 1975 he finally earned his PGA Tour card. He never won an official event on the PGA Tour (he won the 1988 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic, an unofficial tour event), but he did manage 18 top-10 finishes, including sixth in the 1981 U.S. Open.

Ellsworth Vines

Like Conner, Vines also played in the US Open at both tennis and golf. He was a proper tennis player, winning the US Championships in 1931 and 1932 and Wimbledon in 1932. He retired from tennis in 1940 and two years later became a professional golfer. Vines competed on the PGA Tour for 15 years, and in 1947 he managed to finish 12th on the money list.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov

The Russian won two tennis majors, the French Open in 1996 and the Australian Open three years later, and climbed to the top of the world rankings. He was known for his serve, which was like a bullet and won him many matches during his illustrious career. It should have been enough to satisfy him, but it wasn’t and he also decided that he had what it took to become a professional golfer.  "I'm serious about golf,” he said."I know it takes countless hours of practice before you learn all the intricate parts of this game but I'm prepared to give it a try.” He played in the Russian Open in 2005, 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the  2012, 2013 and 2014 Austrian Open and the 2014 Czech Masters, and missed the cut on every occasion. A highly competitive individual, he also tried his hand at poker.

Joe Louis

Nicknamed the Brown Bomber, Louis was one of the greatest boxers of all time. He compiled a 65-3 record, with 51 wins coming by knockout, and was world heavyweight champion for just under 12 years from 1937-49, successfully defending his title 25 times. His success in the ring helped him to become one of the first African-Americans to be regarded as a national hero. He was a noted campaigner for race equality. After retiring from boxing in 1951, Louis made a decent impact on the golf course. In 1952, he was the first African-American to play in a PGA Tour event when he participated in the San Diego Open on a sponsor’s exemption. At that time, a bylaw limited PGA participation to whites. However, Louis’ popularity forced the PGA to change the rules. In 1951 he won the USGA’s national amateur title.

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