4 Wimbledon Tennis Champions Who Switched to Golf

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These Wimbledon Winners Became Pro Golfers and Golf Champs

Althea Gibson at Wimbledon
Althea Gibson went from Wimbledon legend to the LPGA Tour. Central Press/Getty Images

Did you know that multiple winners of Wimbledon, the most prestigious championship in tennis, later switched to golf? What do we mean when we say they "switched to golf"? We mean they left tennis to become golfers - and won golf tournaments, or at least had careers as touring professionals in golf.

It's rare for an individual to achieve fame in one sport and then accomplish something in a different sport. So it's remarkable that there are four tennis players who won titles at Wimbledon and then achieved some measure of success as golfers.

We'll start with one of Wimbledon's giants.

Althea Gibson

American Althea Gibson was a trailblazer in tennis who later became a trailblazer in golf, although her accomplishments in tennis were far greater on the playing fields.

Gibson was the first African-American allowed to play in the U.S. Open tennis championship when she received an invitation in 1950. She first played Wimbledon in 1951.

And Gibson was the first black player to win Wimbledon when she did so in 1957. She was already a Wimbledon champion by then, though, having won the doubles championship in 1956. She repeated as singles champ in 1958, and won the Wimbledon doubles crown in 1957 and 1958, too. She added four other Grand Slam singles titles and three other Grand Slam doubles titles before turning pro.

But Gibson discovered that the racial prejudices (and outright hostilities, and segregation in the South) limited her earning potential as a tennis pro. Meantime, she had developed over the years a love of golf, and was getting better and better at that sport.

She became so good at golf that, when she was 37 years old in 1964, Gibson became a member of the LPGA Tour - the first African-American to join and play on the LPGA.

Gibson never won an LPGA tournament, but she finished in the Top 50 on the money list every year from 1964 to 1971, with a best showing of 23rd in 1967. The closest she came to winning was at the 1970 Immke Buick Open, where she tied Mary Mills and Sandra Haynie for first but Mills won the playoff. Gibson played sporadically on the LPGA through the 1978 season.

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Ellsworth Vines

Ellsworth Vines of the USA playing Jack Crawford of Australia at the Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon in 1932
Ellsworth Vines at Wimbledon in 1932. J. Gaiger/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

American Ellsworth Vines was one of the top-ranked tennis players during the 1930s, and a 2-time men's singles champion at Wimbledon. He won the Wimbledon singles title in 1932 and again in 1933. He also won two U.S. Open tennis titles in the early 1930s, plus two Grand Slam doubles titles and a mixed doubles title. Then he turned pro as a tennis player, and between his amateur and pro career finished four different years ranked No. 1 in the world.

Some tennis historians consider Vines one of the greatest male players ever. But Vines' interest in the late 1930s was moving away from tennis and toward golf. By 1940 Vines was ready to give up tennis and pursue a career as professional golfer.

He was a decent one, too, although he didn't have anywhere near the impact in golf as he had in tennis. Vines played in The Masters three times, the U.S. Open four times and the PGA Championship seven times, once reaching the semifinals (in the match play era).

Vines played on the PGA Tour from the early 1940s into the late 1950s, as well as appearing in regional and state tournaments. He was runner-up at the 1946 All-American Open, one of the biggest tournaments of its day. And Vines did win a couple state titles, the Massachussetts Open in 1946 and the Utah Open in 1955, although neither was a PGA Tour event.

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Lottie Dod

Tennis and golf champion Lottie Dod
Lottie Dod, circa 1890. W. & D. Downey / Getty Images

Briton Lottie Dod was a tennis champion in the 19th century and a golf champion in the 20th century.

Dod won the women's singles championship at Wimbledon five times, first in 1887, then in 1888, and again in 1891, 1892 and 1893. She was the first great female tennis player, the first to win five Wimbledon titles, and the first to win three in a row. (Of course, women's tennis barely existed at that time, with only a small number of entrants, but still, Dod won the tournaments.)

Dod had many sporting interests outside of tennis, though, and one of those was golf. Women's competitive golf barely existed, too, and women's professional golf didn't yet exist. But Dod began playing golf seriously in the 1890s, and competitively just after the turn of the century.

And in 1904, at Royal Troon, Dod won the British Ladies Amateur Championship. She beat May Hezlet in the championship match; Hezlet was already a 2-time winner of the tournament, and won once more. That was Dod's only significant victory in golf - but it was a big one, the biggest tournament in women's golf at the time.

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Scott Draper

Scott Draper at Wimbledon
Scott Draper at Wimbledon in 2002. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Scott Draper? Wait, you say, Draper never won Wimbledon! Gotcha - the Australian Draper and his partner won the Boys Doubles title at Wimbledon in 1992.

Once Draper graduated to the adult bracket, he never fared as well again at Wimbledon. But he did have a career as a pro tennis player, climbing as high as No. 42 in the world singles rankings. He did win one Grand Slam title, too, the mixed doubles at the 2005 Australian Open.

It was only two years later that Draper made a splash in another sport, golf. Playing on what was then called the Von Nida Tour - Australia's developmental golf circuit - Draper won the 2007 New South Wales PGA Championship. Alas, Draper wasn't able to turn that into anything bigger in golf; he did later make several appearances on the European Tour, however.