Budge was born on June 13, 1915, in Oakland, California, the son of a Scottish immigrant and ex-professional soccer player. Growing up, he played a variety of sports before taking up tennis. His height helped provide a powerful serve and combined with his quickness and accurate attacking backhand shots he became one of the best players of his time. Today, according to Tennis Magazine, he is ranked as one of the 20 greatest players of the 20th century.
Budge studied at the University of California, Berkeley in late 1933 but left to play tennis with the U.S. Davis Cup auxiliary team. Accustomed to hard-court surfaces in his native California, he had difficulty playing on the grass surfaces in the east. However, a good instructor and hard work changed all that and in 1937 he swept the Wimbledon championships, winning the singles, the men's doubles title with Gene Mako, and the mixed doubles crown with Alice Marble. He then went on to win the U. S. National singles and the mixed doubles with Sarah Palfrey Fabyan. But, he gained the most fame for his match against Gottfried von Cramm in the Davis Cup inter-zone finals where, after trailing 1-4 in the final set, he came back to win 8-6. His victory allowed the United States to advance and to then win the Davis Cup for the first time in 12 years. For his efforts, the Associated Press named him 1937's "Athlete of the Year" and he became the first tennis player to ever be voted the James E. Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete.
In 1938, Don Budge dominated tennis, defeating John Bromwich in the Australian Open final, Roderick Menzel in the French Open, Henry Austin at the Wimbledon championships, where he never lost a set, and Gene Mako in the U.S. Open to become the first person ever to win the Grand Slam in tennis. Budge won two more U.S. professional championships before 1942 when he entered the United States Air Force to fight in World War II. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury suffered while serving in the military would permanently hinder his playing abilities.
After retiring from competition he coached and conducted tennis clinics for children. A gentleman, on and off the court, he was much in demand for speaking engagements and signed on to lend his name to promote certain lines of sporting goods. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964 and with the advent of the Open era in tennis, in 1968 he returned to play at Wimbledon in the Veteran's doubles. In 1973, at the age of 58, he and former champion Frank Sedgman teamed up to win the Veteran's doubles championship at Wimbledon before an appreciative crowd.
In December of 1999, Budge was injured in an automobile accident from which he never fully recovered. He died on January 26, 2000 at a nursing home in Scranton, Pennsylvania.