In this piece we compare how much golfers earn compared to athletes from other sports.
How Much Do Pro Golfers Earn?
Golf is unlike a lot of other sports in that there is no base salary that competitors receive.
Instead it is much like tennis in that the amount earned is entirely predicated on performance and success.
However, once that success if found, endorsement and sponsorship deals can be huge.
For example a player like Rory McIlroy is one of the most marketable players in the world and is currently the World Number One, which therefore makes him the perfect package for sponsors.
McIlroy earned over $23m on the PGA Tour in 2019 and is reported to earn $10m per year from his TaylorMade contract and another $10m per year from Nike.
He also has lucrative deals with Omega, Golf Pass and Optum.
Of course it is difficult to predict exactly how much golfers earn because their bank statements and tax returns are not common knowledge, however what we can look at are the purses at golf tournaments to give a clearer idea on player earnings.
The PGA Tour is the biggest golf tour in the word and has huge prize funds as a result.
Winners each week usually win over $1 million, and having good results usually gets players into bigger tournaments like the Majors, all which have huge prize funds as you can see below.
2020 Major Winner’s Cheque
Masters – $2,070,000
PGA Championship – $1,980,000
US Open – $2,250,000
The Open – $1,935,000
Another aspect you can add to this in terms of the PGA Tour is bonus incentives like the Wyndham Rewards and FedEx Cup.
Brooks Koepka wrapped up the first Wyndham Rewards Bonus in 2019 with a win at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. For the tournament win he secured $1,745,000 and also an extra $2 million for topping the Wyndham standings.
In terms of the FedEx Cup, if a player is sitting atop the leaderboard at the conclusion of the Tour Championship they now collect an extra $15 million.
The European Tour does struggle to compete with this however there are still many tournaments that take place with prize funds over $7 million such as the Rolex Series events.
Indeed the season-ending DP World Tour Championship hosted in Dubai had the biggest first prize cheque in golf last year with the winner taking home $3 million.
Additionally the European Tour has a season long competition called the Race to Dubai which pays $5 million out to the top-5 finishers in the overall standings.
So the clear idea here is that golfers can earn a lot of money provided they are successful. That is a crucial caveat because if not it can be hard for professional golfers, especially if a player has to spend lots of money on flights, hotels, living costs and other things to get to an event, only to miss the cut and not many any money.
For example, Michael Kim played in 26 events last season and earned just over $100,000 which put him 217th on the official money standings. To you and me that sounds like a lot of money but as a professional golfer that does not go that far considering travel, hotel and caddie costs in particular.
This gets even tougher for female golfers.
For the 2019 season, 112 PGA Tour players made over $1 million whereas on the LPGA just 14 did.
This discrepancy gets even more pronounced when comparing to the Ladies European Tour.
That being said the top end of players in women’s golf are earning in the millions too so once again success is the crucial factor in all avenues of golf.
How does golf compare to other sports?
Yes successful golfers get paid well but how do they compare to other sports like tennis, another sport entirely predicated on your own success?
Well, in 2019 the US Open became the most lucrative tennis event ever offering a $57 million purse with the singles winners in both men’s and women’s draws getting nearly $4 million each. The runners-up got nearly $2 million each as well!
On the ATP, players regularly compete for big prize funds dependent on the size of the tournament, with the ATP Masters 1000 events having the most behind the Majors.
Also the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals features just eight players in the singles draw and they all get paid handsomely provided they qualify.
The WTA has the same kind of thing in terms of specific events offering more money.
It is harder to compare golf to other sports like football, basketball and American football because athletes in those sports receive salaries dependent on contracts, signing bonuses and sponsorship too.
What we can try and do is look at the highest earning competitors in sports and see where golfers drop in.
According to the 2019 Forbes list for the highest paid athletes, Lionel Messi sits atop the tree with $127 million, $92 million of which is from his salary.
Indeed most of the top-10 make most of their money from salaries.
Out of the top-8, six have salaries that completely dwarf their endorsements.
Boxer Saul Canelo Alvarez for example earned $94 million in 2019, with only $2 million coming endorsements.
So where do golfers fit in?
The highest placed golfer is Tiger Woods with $63.9 million. $54 million of that came from endorsements.
Phil Mickelson comes next and the same story is clear. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth were the only other golfers to feature in the top-100, which is dominated by athletes from basketball, American football and baseball.
A clear theme throughout is that golfers and tennis players in particular only feature on the list if they make a boat load of money from endorsements.
Compared to other sports, golfers make little money from winning and salaries whereas being marketable is the key.
Three-time Major winner Spieth illuminates this clearly. In 2019 he made $2.1 million in winnings, but a staggering $29 million in endorsements.
Don’t forget to follow Golf Monthly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more golf content.