Where Golfers Rank Among World's Richest Sports Stars

By: | Tue 15 May 2018 | Comments


SOME of you may have read that Rory McIlroy is the richest sportsman in the UK under the age of 30. According to The Sunday Times Rich List, the Northern Irishman is worth a cool £110m.

There will be those of you who questioned the accuracy of this figure, especially as, during a Twitter spat with Steve Elkington after missing the cut at the US Open in 2017, he reckoned that he was worth $200m. As somebody who was involved in helping to compile The Rich List, let me assure you that the £110m figure is accurate.

Yes, McIlroy signed a $100m contract with TaylorMade and yes he signed a new $100m deal with Nike and yes he earns millions more in prize money and from other sponsors. But his $100m deals are not paid in one lump sum - they are spread over the duration of the contract. When lists such as this are complied they take into account past earnings and current assets, and we don’t think that Rory will be struggling to pay the bills.

It got us thinking about the worth of other golfers. Forbes compiles an annual list of the wealth of all sportsmen, and it is reckoned to be the most authoritative in the world. It is dominated by American footballers and basketball players, but a number of golfers also feature prominently.



When you consider that the likes of Justin Thomas earned some $20m in 2017 in prize money alone, you will quickly realise that life as a top professional golfer can be pretty lucrative.


But before we get to the big earners, it is worth remembering that not everybody who tries to carve out a living as a tour professional makes bucketloads of cash. Take the case of Gavin Moynihan as an example. He recently partnered Paul Dunne to victory in the European Tour’s GolfSixes at St Albans and picked up a cheque for 100,000 euros for his efforts. Not bad for a couple of days work, you might think.

But consider this. Prior to turning up at St Albans, 23-year-old Moynihan had played in 10 tournaments and missed the cut in every single one of them. It meant he hadn’t earned a single euro. That is bad enough, but add the fact that he has had to pay for air travel travel, food, accommodation and caddy and it quickly becomes pretty obvious that life on tour can be extremely difficult for those who are not at the very top of the game.

“This is the most fun I have had since I joined the paid ranks,” he said. That has to be the understatement of all time.

Meanwhile back at in the land of fantasy golf…five golfers feature in Forbes’ list of the top 25 athletes of all time - Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman. McIlroy doesn’t appear on the list yet, but he is only 29.

So who do you think tops the list and how much do you think Woods has earned during his astonishing career?

Let’s deal with those questions in order.

Top of the pile is basketball legend Michael Jordan, whose career earnings are put at an incredible $1.85 billion. He may have long since hung up his basketball shoes, but Jordan still has deals with  Gatorade, Hanes, Nike and Upper Deck. In 2010 he bought the Charlotte Bobcats (now known as the Hornets) for $175m. He has a 90% stake in the franchise which is now estimated to be worth $780m, proving that, along with many of the other stars on Forbes list, the big money is to be made away from the field of play.

The late Arnold Palmer made the vast bulk of his fortune from endorsements and course design, while Nicklaus may be the best golfer the world has ever seen, but made his serious money from course design. Norman has designed golf courses all over the world and also has his own wine brand, which brings in tens of millions of dollars every year.



And what of Woods? He is second in the list with career earnings of $1.7 billion. Don’t forget that he has accumulated this vast fortune despite the scandal that engulfed his life and despite the amount of time he has spent on the sidelines because of injury.

Woods banked $600m between 2006 and 2010, with endorsements and appearance fees making up most of that figure. His current annual earnings are some 70% shy of the sums he was earning at his peak but he remains the best-paid figure in golf.

Palmer died in 2016 but remains third on the Forbes list with career earnings of $1.4 billion. In the 12 months after he died, his estate still earned $40m. More than 400 stores sell Arnold Palmer-branded apparel in Asia, with plans to move into new markets like Thailand and Vietnam. His estate has agreements with 39 licensees.

Nicklaus is fourth, with $1.2 billion. In addition to course design, his business empire now includes real estate, wine, ice cream, golf academies and lemonade.

Mickelson is sixth in the list with $815m. He has lucrative deals with Amgen, ExxonMobil, KPMG, Rolex, Grayhawk, Greenbrier, Intrepid Financial Partners and Workday. His $84m in career prize money ranks second only to Woods - and he is still winning golf tournaments.

The only other golfer in the top 25 is Norman, with $705m. Last year he sold his future licensing rights to Authentic Brands Group for an undisclosed sum, but his company retains control of his real estate, investments and course design operations, while ABG works on his other business interests in apparel, accessories, steak and wine.


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