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Sports stars who make golf their second career

By Paul Gittings, CNN
  • Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hoping to qualify for U.S. Open
  • 'Babe' Didrikson won two track and field Olympic golds before starring as an LPGA pro
  • Ex-grand slam tennis champs Ellsworth Vine, Althea Gibson and 'Lottie' Dod were notable golfers
  • Ivan Lendl has played in professional events in Europe and U.S.

(CNN) -- Most sports stars fade into comfortable retirement when their days at the top come to the end, but some find a way to keep their competitive edge by picking up a set of golf clubs.

Some see it as a healthy pastime for when their bodies can no longer stand the rigors of full-contact action, though for others the proverbial "long walk spoiled" is deadly serious.

Tony Romo, for example, is one of the finest quarterbacks in the NFL. But when his gridiron days are over, he appears to have the potential to turn his attentions to the professional golf circuit.

In fact, his appearance in a major may come quicker than that because the Dallas Cowboy has advanced to sectional qualifying for next month's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

If he gets through the next stage at The Woodlands in Texas on June 7, Romo will be teeing it up with the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, which would be a remarkable achievement for a part-time player.

It's nice to know that you can do things and get your blood pressure and emotions under control in this situation and still do good things
--Tony Romo

Romo shot a two-under-par 69 at a local course in Dallas, but will need to be at his best to claim one of the 90 places available from 13 qualifiers for the second major of the season.

"It's nice to know that you can do things and get your blood pressure and emotions under control in this situation and still do good things," Romo told The Dallas Morning News after his superb round.

"And that carries over to football, and I try to use the way you think, the way you breathe, all those things in football and it's just another tool to help you get better."

Golf certainly remains one of the favored pastimes for top athletes, and the likes of Michael Jordan are rarely seen off the course, but Romo would join an elite group who have mixed it with the pros for real.

That list is undoubtedly headed by the great Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson.

The "Babe" topped a 1999 poll by the Associated Press as the greatest sportswoman of the century and her exploits in golf are legendary.

But Didrikson was first known as a world-class track and field star who won two gold medals and a silver at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

Famously, she once broke five world records in a single afternoon. Not surprisingly, Didrikson was also a superb basketball player and excelled at tennis, softball and a clutch of other sports.

But it was as a golfer that she enjoyed a second career at the pinnacle of sport, taking up the game seriously after she retired from athletics.

Having won every every major amateur event for women, Didrikson turned professional and promptly dominated on the LPGA circuit, leading the money list from 1948 to 1951.

The "Babe" also competed against men and made the halfway cut at the Los Angeles Open on the PGA Tour in 1945.

She won the U.S. Women's Open for the third time in 1954, but her career and life was curtailed by colon cancer, from which she died aged 45.

Three-time grand slam tennis champion Ellsworth Vines pushes Didrikson for top spot and had remarkable abilities in both sports.

Quitting tennis in his late twenties, Vines became a professional golfer in 1942, secured two PGA Tour victories and also reached the semifinals of the 1951 PGA Championships when the major was a match play event.

Vines and fellow American Frank Conner are the only two men to have competed in both the U.S. Open at tennis and golf.

Another great tennis player to excel was Charlotte "Lottie" Dod, a five-time Wimbledon singles champion from 1887-1893.

Dod took up golf at the age of 15, and after her competitive tennis career was over she was a force in leading women's amateur tournaments in Britain.

The highlight of her golf career was victory in the 1904 British Championship, and she won a host of other events.

Like Didrikson, Dod was a true all-rounder and also competed for Great Britain in archery at the 1908 Olympics in London.

Continuing the tennis theme, Althea Gibson, was also a notable golfer and played professionally.

Gibson won five grand slam singles titles, including Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958 in an illustrious career.

On retirement from the tennis circuit, Gibson turned her sporting attentions to golf and became the first African-American to play on the professional LPGA circuit when she earned her card in 1964.

Her best finish on the tour came at the 1970 with a tie for second at the Len Immke Buick Classic, where she lost in a three-way playoff. She had nine other top-10 finishes before her retirement in 1978.

Eight-time grand slam champion Ivan Lendl took to golf practice as fanatically as he did on the tennis court, but unfortunately not with the same level of success as the likes of Vines and Gibson.

But he is good enough to have played five times in top-class professional events, twice on the European Tour at his native Czech Open and three times on the Nationwide second-tier Tour in the U.S.

His three daughters Marika, Isabelle and Daniela are all junior golf champions and are eyeing success on the LPGA Tour, so a Lendl may yet win a golf major.

Honorable mentions go to a pair of famous English Test cricketers, who were both fearsome golfers and might have earned a living professionally in another era.

Gilbert Jessop, renowned for his fearsome hittting as a batsmen, took part in the British Amateur Championship in 1914.

Ted Dexter captained England from 1961 to 1964 and played one of the most famous innings in Test history at Lord's against the West Indies in 1963.

But his second love was golf, like Jessop playing on a scratch handicap, but enjoying considerable success as an amateur, three times winning the President's Putter, a leading tournament contested by alumni of the famous Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Golf also has the reputation for being the favorite leisure activity for star soccer players, with many spending hours on the course after training. Brazilian stars such as Ronaldo and Kaka are known to be keen players.

But to date, although regular competitors in pro-am events, none have emulated Romo and tried to take on the pros for real with both sporting pride and money at stake.