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What Happened to Golfers Playing For The Love of The Game

By: | Mon 05 Feb 2024

With more big-money signings for LIV and billions of dollars being pumped into the PGA Tour, Golfshake's Derek Clements is feeling just a little bit dispirited by what he's seeing in the men's professional game. Sharing his latest View From The Fairway, Derek describes a story that reminded him of what things were once about.

How quickly things change. Early last week I checked out the entry list for the WM Phoenix Open and two names stood out - Adrian Meronk and Tyrrell Hatton.

And then they were gone. Days later they were teeing it up on LIV Golf in Mayakoba, their pockets bulging with dollars. On the eve of that tournament, the PGA Tour announced a massive deal that they tell us will see some kind of peace breaking out in the world of professional golf. But only after everybody involved in both sides of this whole sorry saga has had their pockets lined with even more money.

On Thursday I sat down and watched a film called The Greatest Game Ever Played. It tells the story of the 1913 US Open championship when Harry Vardon and Ted Ray crossed the Atlantic to win what was then arguably golf’s biggest prize. They were two English golf professionals regarded as being the finest players in the world. Most of today’s top golfers still use the Vardon grip. And Ray was the Bryson DeChambeau of his day.

It did not go to plan though. Instead, the title went to an American of French ancestry called Francis Ouimet

What’s the point of this? 

Ouimet was a 20-year-old who had a 10-year-old caddie on the bag because his original 16-year-old bagman couldn’t get the time off school. 

The film was made by Disney and it seems remarkably far-fetched. Disney stretched the truth somewhat. Ouimet beat Vardon and Ray in a playoff - for dramatic purposes, the movie had him winning by a single shot. The reality is that he beat Vardon by five. There was never a more unlikely winner of the US Open - or any other major for that matter.

Oh, and did I mention that Ouimet was an amateur golfer who did not receive a cent for winning? The US Open was played at Brookline, where he had worked as a caddie. And he was not even a member. He had to receive special dispensation to play. This was at a time when caddies and even professionals were not allowed in the clubhouse.

Bobby Jones won the US Open, The Open, the US Amateur and the Amateur Championship in 1930. He did not receive anything for his efforts either.

Hatton has received £50m to join LIV, which is chickenfeed when compared with the reported $500m paid to Jon Rahm to join the Saudi-funded tour.

Jon Rahm

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

We now learn that PGA Tour players who stayed with the tour are to receive loyalty payments for doing so. 

There are some who believe this is nothing more than they deserve. So let me just give you a few figures:

Tiger Woods has career on-course earning on the PGA Tour of almost $121m. I cannot even begin to guess at how much he has earned from endorsement and sponsorship deals but it will not be less than $1bn.

Rory McIlroy’s career earnings on the PGA Tour alone stood at $80m ahead of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. His TaylorMade contract is reputed to be worth $100m and he also had a $100m deal with Nike. 

Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth have both pocketed $61m. In total, 77 golfers have won more than $25m - and that is just prize money.

If you had offered these players those sums when they first joined the paid ranks they would have bitten your hand off. I despair at the fact that money now seems to have become the defining imperative for all these players. And I think it is totally wrong that golfers who chose not to join LIV are now going to be paid a loyalty bonus.

If you think the figures above are obscene, let’s just take a look at last season alone on the PGA Tour, focusing on the top 10 players.

Viktor Hovland picked up $14.1m in prize money but finished first in the FedEx Cup, which was worth a further $18m, giving him a mind-boggling $32.1m. Talor Gooch, who topped the LIV money list, collected around $33m.

Scottie Scheffler won $21,014,342 in prize money and was tied sixth in the FedEx Cup, which was worth a further $2m, taking him to $23.01m. McIlroy had an average season by his own standards. So what was an average season worth to McIlroy? $13.92m in prize money and a further $4m for finishing fourth in the FedEx Cup. Oh, and he also trousered $15m for finishing first in the ridiculous Player Impact Program. Woods, who barely hit a shot in anger in 2023, was handed $12m for finishing runner-up to McIlroy.

Back to the money list, the man in 10th place was Open champion Brian Harman, who won $9.15m in prize money and received a FedEx Cup bonus of $580,000. I should also mention that Rahm signed off his PGA Tour career with $16.25m in prize money and a $670,000 FedEx Cup bonus, amounting to $17.19m. But that wasn’t enough to keep him.

I love golf. I have played it most of my life and my first proper memory was of Tony Jacklin striding to victory at Royal Lytham in 1969, with the legendary commentator Henry Longhurst describing Jacko’s final tee shot as a corker. Jacklin earned the princely sum of £4,250. I can never remember the likes of Jacklin, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player or Arnold Palmer talking about prize money. They simply went out there, played the game for the love of it and let business take care of itself.

I truly wonder how many of today’s tournament professionals can honestly say that they play for the love of the game. One thing is for sure - Ouimet and Jones would be turning in their graves if they knew what had happened to their sport.

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Tags: PGA Tour LIV Golf dp world tour

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