Avoiding the “is golf a sport?” rabbit hole, I present the following only as a list of what other parties, engaged in entertaining us by manipulating a round (sometimes ovular) object in a defined space, are banking.
As Forbes indicates, NBA players earn an average of $5.15 million, MLB players earn $3.2 million on average, NHL players make $2.4 million, and the average NFL salary is $1.9 million per year.
Multiple sources indicate that the average salary for a PGA Tour professional is in the $1.25 to 1.5 million range. Tiger Woods, last year’s leading money winner, made $8.5 million on the course. Indeed, 82 golfers grossed more than one million dollars. However, this doesn’t account for standard bumps to the bottom line (sponsorships) and expenses (travel, caddies), of course.
As with most every professional sport, golfers on the PGA Tour are making more money now than ever before (thank you, Tiger). Unlike other sports, where everyone is playing the same ball or using large team-supplied/league-mandated equipment, golfers have the option of choosing between several major equipment manufacturers.
Further, the equipment the pros play is (theoretically) the same stuff that weekend hackers can purchase. So there are big bucks to be made in the endorsement game. Also, the Tour has no problem allowing its players to sport more logos than race cars, so there is money to be made in selling that precious real estate.
All this by way of saying that the numbers on top pros’ tax returns are much, much higher than their winnings.
With respect to their winnings, here’s a look at the top prizes on the PGA Tour.
12 T5. Masters Tournament: $1.44 million
As the Masters is the most widely watched major in professional golf, and many golf fans would likely sell their firstborn children for tickets to the event, one might assume the winner’s share of golf’s rite of spring is bountiful.
Relatively speaking, it isn’t.
The green jackets of Augusta don’t need to entice players with a huge purse. They make their money from their TV contract and are assured one of the strongest fields in golf year after year.
11 T5. U.S. Open: $1.44 million
The 2013 U.S. Open winner, Justin Rose, pocketed $1.44 million for his efforts at Merion. If you’re beginning to detect a pattern here, good. The top three tiers in professional golf paydays are; the hereto nameless event that pays more than any other, the WGC events, and the Major events and other tournaments of significance. Beyond these, there are two or three more tournament purse and winner’s share grades on the PGA Tour.
10 T5. Tour Championship by Coca-Cola: $1.44 million
When Henrik Stenson carded a final round two-under 68 for a three-shot victory at the Tour Championship at East Lake, the 37-year-old's return from a dismal slump was complete. Of course, the victory also earned him the biggest payday on Tour in 2014, as the win made Stenson the FedExCup champion, and entitled him the $10 million prize for winning the season-long competition.
9 T5. BMW Championship: $1.44 million
Another tournament with a $1.44 million winner’s share and another FedExCup Playoffs event, the BMW Championship also earns a tie for the fifth spot on our list.
8 T5. Deutsche Bank Championship: $1.44 million
Speaking of the Deutsche Bank Championship, the event provided another $1.44 million paycheck for eventual FedExCup Champion Henrik Stenson. After winning at TPC Boston, Stenson said, “"There's never a bad time to win a golf tournament, I know that much."
7 T5. The Barclays: $1.44 million
Masters champion Adam Scott also earned himself a second $1.44 million paycheck in 2013 at The Barclays. Scott was the early leader in Liberty National’s clubhouse with a final-round 66 and a four-round total of 11-under par. When Justin Rose, Tiger Woods, and finally Gary Woodland couldn’t birdie the final hole, Scott stood alone at the top of the leaderboard.
6 T5. PGA Championship: $1.44 million
Duf Daddy’s first major victory grossed him $1.44 million, which is the same amount all other major winners earned. Dufner torched Oak Hill, and his final-round 68 placed him two strokes ahead of Jim Furyk, and offered a measure of redemption for the golfer, who melted down in 2011, allowing his buddy Keegan Bradley to win his first major.
5 T5. The Open Championship: $1.44 million
Another entry on the list of tournaments where the victory was likely much more significant to the winner than the prize money, Phil Mickelson secured his first Open Championship win a week after winning for the first time in Europe in his career at the Scottish Open. Mickelson’s final-round 66 at Royal Lytham earned him the $1.44 million winner’s share.
4 T2. WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship: $1.5 million
Moving on (finally) from the $1.44 million winner’s share section: Three of the four WGC events paid out $1.5 million to their respective winners and offered $9 million purses overall. Matt Kuchar earned his $1.5 million by beating fellow sixth seed Hunter Mahan in the finals of the match play event at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain.
3 T2. WGC-Cadillac Championship: $1.5 million
Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that Tiger Woods won three of the four events that compensate their respective winners most generously in 2013. However, purse size contributes greatly to strength of field outside of the major championships. So, in winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship—as well as the next two events in our list—Tiger Woods again proved he can beat the world’s best.
Woods did not, however, win a major, and assuredly would have forfeited his winnings from the events in question for a win in one of golf’s four most significant tournaments.
2 T2. WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: $1.5 million
14-time major champion Tiger Woods also won the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at a track he has dominated: Akron’s Firestone CC. Tiger fired a brilliant second-round 61 and never looked back, pocketing $1.5 million for his eighth WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title.
1 The Players Championship: $1.7 million
Tiger Woods embarrassed Sergio Garcia on the back nine at the last Players Championship. Really, Tiger kept his foot on the gas and allowed Sergio to make poor course management decisions, as the Spaniard has done throughout his career. When Sergio rinsed his tee shot after being unnecessarily aggressive off the tee at the notorious par-3 17th hole, he effectively handed Tiger Woods the $1.7 million winner’s share—the largest payout to a victor in 2013.
*Obviously, Henrik Stenson secured the $10 million annuity for winning the FedExCup Playoffs with his win at the Tour Championship. However, as the $10 million wasn’t technically the winner’s share for that tournament, it’s not included here.