Staggeringly Rich Rewards Remain for Golfers at the Top
WHEN Jordan Spieth won his first tournament, the John Deere Classic, back in 2013 he collected a cheque for $828,000 – a full 20% less than was on offer at the same event in 2017. Players on the PGA Tour now compete for Monopoly money, and much of the credit for that is due to Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson once thanked Woods personally for changing the lives of the men who follow the sun around the United States of America. Mickelson first tournament victory came at the 1991 Northern Trust Open, when the entire tournament purse was $1m split between 73 golfers. Winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open is worth $1.25m.
Many observers felt that when Woods was sidelined by injury prize money would start to fall, but it hasn’t happened, and the game remains awash with huge amounts of money. Last year, Rory McIlroy signed a $100m contract with TaylorMade to play the company’s clubs and ball, and a new clothing deal with Nike that earns him in the region of $20m a year,
The brands that invest so much money in players such as McIlroy, Woods, Justin Thomas and Spieth do so because they believe they receive their own payoff for doing so. And we are not just talking about club and clothing manufacturers. Car makers, breweries, financial companies and watchmakers hand out lucrative contracts and products for fun, knowing that those who watch the professional game have money to spend.
The top players spend huge amounts of money on sports cars, private jets, massive houses and expensive “toys”, and luxury advertisers continue to cash in. In the main, Tour players are a marketing man’s dream – they are clean-living athletes who set the right example.
Dustin Johnson has a penchant for cycling, and rides a $10,000 road bike that is so light he can pick it up with one finger. The world number one makes more money than he can spend and employs a team of financial advisers. He never needs to hit another shot in anger for as long as he lives but he continues to do so because he enjoys it and is rather good at it. He lives in a house with Paulina Gretzky that cost him a cool $4.5m but says he has now outgrown it and is currently having a new home built. It will include a dressing room to store that dozens of suits he owns. This may seem rather odd. When was the last time you saw the Dustinator wearing a suit? But that doesn’t prevent him buying them at about $4,000 a pop. Johnson is not the brightest light in the house, but he still manages to earn $20m a year off the course.
Will Nike and TaylorMade be concerned about the investment they have made in McIlroy given his current struggles on the course? Not in the slightest. Interest in McIlroy remains huge and, if anything, his appeal only increases with the odd missed cut as it makes it easier for the average club golfer to relate to him.
After winning the US Open last year, Brooks Koepka treated himself to a Mercedes AMG G 63SUV and a top-of-the-range BMW. It is unlikely that he paid the full list price for either vehicle. Mercedes and BMW will be thrilled at the prospect of the US Open champion driving around in one of their vehicles. He has also spent a small fortune having a wine cellar built that can store hundreds of bottles of win, most off which he will probably never drink.
Woods is approaching a mind-boggling $1.5 billion in lifetime earnings. McIlroy is not yet 30 but admitted that the $10m bonus he won when he took the FedEx Cup a couple of years ago was of no real concern to him. In a row on Twitter with Steve Elkington last year, he revealed that he is worth somewhere in the region of $200m.
Much has been said and written in recent years about golf’s so-called decline but the best players have seen their earnings increase 10-fold in less than 30 years.
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