This question is a bit like asking how many fish does a fisherman catch? It depends on a whole bunch of factors, not least how good the pro golfer is and how many tournaments each individual player involved manages to win.
One significant statistic is the surprisingly small number of golfers who actually manage to make a good living out of their game, by comparison with some other sports. Unlike footballers or basketball players, professional golfers are not paid a salary simply for competing.
Neither do they, as boxers do, negotiate a purse prior to the event which will be paid to them irrespective of performance. For most golf pros it is necessary to chalk up some wins before much money can be made.
And yet for those who do make it rich pickings will often await. Not only can millions of dollars be earned in prize money but there is also the prospect of lucrative endorsement deals, sponsorship and advertising.
A cursory look at the top end of the sports money list will frequently reveal the names of many a leading professional golfer.
How Many Professional Golfers Are There?
On the major tours around the world there are actually fewer than 3,000 pros. Overwhelmingly the majority of people who play golf do so for leisure, enjoying it either as a social event or as and opportunity to conduct business. But the best among the professionals find themselves handsomely remunerated for their talents.
The largest source of income from playing golf is achieved through participation in tournaments. In these the winner’s share is typically eighteen percent of the overall purse amount, and decent money can be earned from finishing anywhere in the top ten, or in some cases the top twenty.
On What Basis Are Pro Golfers Paid?
On the PGA Tour a professional golfer is a contractor, participating in games and tournaments independently.
As such he or she will be expected to foot their own out-of-pocket expenses such as travel costs, tournament entry fees, food and lodgings – for their caddies as well as for themselves.
Failure in the tournament could therefore actually leave the competitor worse off than they were to begin with.
Inevitably this has the effect of increasing the pressure upon players to make the cut and to finish in the rankings.
How much golfers make ultimately depends therefore upon how they perform out on the golf course.
Earnings, Shares and Purses
Last year the average PGA Tour player earned nearly $1.5 million. This is obviously to a great extent the golfing elite.
At the top of the money list was the Spaniard Jon Rahm, who managed to net an impressive $7.7 million dollars. At the other end of the scale, the 250th placed earner took home just over $6,000.
The way it works is that at each and every PGA Tour event there is a total purse, and this is divided up unequally between participants depending upon the order in which they finish.
Different contests pay out different amounts, the Player’s Tournament being the most generous with a total purse in the region of $20 million. The average PGA Tour pays on around $9 million.
Generally a top five finish on a PGA Tour will command prize money in the region of between $250,000 and $300,000.
This is quite an attractive proposition when one considers that the world’s top golfers will compete in several different competitions throughout the year.
Pro Tours in the USA and Other Countries
Generally on the PGA Tour the number of players earning money tend to range between about 200 to 300.
On the Nationwide tour a similar number will take home a pay check, only it is smaller.
Developmental pro tours, sometimes known as mini tours, are also available to competitors.
Outside of the US the most lucrative contest is the European tour.
Around 150 of the best players tend also to make the Asian tour money list.
Sponsorship and Endorsement Deals
And then, of course, there is the often substantial supplementary income which comes with commercial endorsements. But “supplementary” is not at all the same thing as “secondary”.
For many of the very top players, and those with the highest profile, by far the most money comes from sponsorship as opposed to prize money.
Tiger Woods Sponsorship and Endorsement
Back in 2011 an article in Sports Illustrated revealed that of the $63 million earned by Tiger Woods in that year, some $60 million had come to him through the multiple sponsorships which he was able to enjoy.
This is big money in any sports person’s book – and this was all in a single season! In spite of his huge success on the course, tournament winnings in fact amounted to but a small fraction of what he eventually took home.
Phil Mickelson Earnings and Sponsorships
Where Tiger Woods led, others on the PGA Tour money list followed. According to Golf Digest Phil Mickelson earned almost as much – $61 million – of which $57 million was through sponsorships.
Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau Sponsorship
Jordan Spieth enjoys a lucrative tie-up with the sportsbook FanDuel, whilst Bryson DeChambeau has a deal with Cobra-Puma in which he appears only with that company’s apparel and equipment.
Arnold Palmer Endorsements and Celebrity Appearance
Significantly, one of the greatest earners in golf that year was none other than the late Arnold Palmer, who had actually retired from the sport but had netted around $36 million in endorsements and celebrity appearance fees.
PGA Tour Players Sponsorship Money
For some players, a year’s sponsorship money will amount to more than their entire career earnings from golf.
For perspective, there are presently eleven golf players who have earned more than $10 million during their PGA Tour careers who have never yet won a tour event.
The down side of signing endorsement deals with commercial enterprises is that they do often require players to enter into appearance agreements.
Thus players tied to such agreements are sometimes compelled to take part in professional tours and other tournaments which they might otherwise have been inclined not to participate in in order that the sponsor can extract maximum publicity and exposure for their product.
Who Sponsors the Biggest Names in Professional Golf?
Professional golfers are frequently to be seen on our television screens before audiences of hundreds of thousands if not of millions, so the clothes they wear and the equipment they use is of paramount interest.
Manufacturers of clothing, golf shoes, clubs, bags and other equipment will therefore be keep for them to be seen endorsing their products.
But those engaged in professional sports at the highest level are these days also media personalities, and so their every movement even when they are not on the golf course is going to be followed by many.
Which suits they wear at formal events, which cars they drive, which sportswear they are seen out in – all of this has strong commercial implications which of course means extra money for those involved.
It is not always just about recognizable products either but also logo placements.
Brands stay at the top of their game through public recognition, which means never allowing their brand to be out of the public’s gaze for too long.
Wherever a celebrity golfer is to be found, expect a sponsor’s design to also be visible not very far into the background.
Other Earners in Golf
Surprising as it may seem, professional golfers are not the only ones who can make good money from the sport.
The most highly paid executive, by a considerable margin, is the PGA Tour Commissioner, who enjoys an annual base salary well into the millions.
Several other PGA Tour executives also earn in excess of a million dollars each year.
The highest ranking officials from the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) and Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) can also expect to clear in the region of a million.
The Player Impact Program
Newly introduced in 2021, under this program the PGA Tour divides $50 million amongst the ten players deemed to have had the most significant impact on social media, search engines and other such outlets.
This amount is not divided quite evenly (in 2021 amounts awarded were between $3 million and $8 million, and the precise formula under which awards are given remains unclear).
How Much Can Lady Golfers Earn?
Whilst equality in sport has moved leaps and bounds in recent decades, financially female golfers still lag considerably behind the big male stars, especially when it comes to endorsements.
In 2021 the average earnings for LPGA professional golfers on the course itself was around $140,000. The highest paid was South Korean Jin Young Ko, with around $3.5 million.
Women golfers can expect to take between $5 million and $10 million in sponsorships at the top end, which is certainly considerable but still falls some way short of the kind of figures commanded by the likes of Tiger Woods.
But There is a Down Side
Being a good player on the golf course does not always on the other hand lead to a good secure income for life.
Whilst old legends such as Woods and Jack Nicklaus will continue to make enough many even from their golfing legacy to keep them in luxury for the rest of their lives, those who are not household names and have struggled to get onto the money list from year to year may find the cash dries up once they have hung up their clubs.
Some retired professional golfers will continue to make a good living through teaching the sport to newcomers, or from such things as writing their own manuals or autobiographies.
But as with any sport there is less room for success in management than there is in the field and so some will inevitably need to look elsewhere in order to maintain an income.
In Golf Financial Security Comes With Being the Best
Like with most sports, the earnings structure in golf is a steep pyramid. At the top are those who are so conspicuously successful that they not only amass the highest in tournament winnings but also manage to attract the most lucrative endorsement deals.
Many others who are not household names outside of golfing circles nevertheless make a comfortable living, attracting sponsorships and chalking up enough tour wins to keep them in the game.
But overwhelmingly, the vast majority who play golf do so entirely for pleasure, happily incurring their own expenses as they go.