Thorpe was born in Roxboro, North Carolina, the ninth of the twelve children of a fairway superintendent. He attended Morgan State University before turning pro in 1972. He won three times on the PGA Tour in the mid-1980s. He has surpassed this at senior level by winning over 10 times, including one senior Major championship (the 2002 Tradition) and making the top 10 of the Champions Tour’s career money list in 2004.
Thorpe’s late success has been clouded by charges filed in federal court in Orlando, Florida, charging him with failure to pay $1.6 million in taxes between the years 2002 and 2004. After his lawyer stated that Thorpe intended to plead innocent to the charges, Thorpe pleaded guilty in September 2009. On January 22, 2010, Thorpe was sentenced to one year in prison for the crime.
Thorpe was released from prison on January 17, 2011. He was under suspension by the PGA Tour until March 31, and then resumed his career on the Champions Tour.