Texan Jordan Spieth earned more money on the golf course than any other pro in 2015.
It may come as a surprise to some, but a professional golfer’s earnings cover a wide spectrum. Factors such as the golfer’s ability, whether they play on a pro tour or not, and whether he endorses any products help determine his salary. Unfortunately, even at the top level, a golf pro’s earnings aren’t necessarily stable or long-lived. If a PGA Tour player is injured or has an off-year and loses his Tour card, his income will likely fall precipitously the following year. On the other hand, club pros generally enjoy more stable, though much lower, annual incomes.
U.S. Pro Major Tours
Money earned on the PGA Tour varies from year to year and from golfer to golfer. In 2015, a total of 259 golfers earned money on the Tour, ranging widely from Tim Herron’s $5,820 to Jordan Spieth’s whopping $12,030,465. The player roughly at the midpoint of the money list — Jonas Blixt at No. 130 — won $703,664. On the Web.com Tour, a developmental circuit one step down from the PGA Tour, 250 players won money in 2015, led by Patton Kizzire $518,241. Michael Smith brought up the rear at $1,254. Alistair Presnell, the midpoint money winner at No. 125, earned $28,642. Even though they may earn differently, all Tour regulars must pay a variety of expenses out of those earnings – including travel, lodging, and food — while going from event to event.
Non-U.S. Pro Tours
The most lucrative pro tour outside of the U.S. is the European Tour, although many American players participate on the circuit. Rory McIlroy was first among 294 European Tour money winners in 2015, earning 4,727,253 euros—that’s approximately $5.25 million! Niccolo Quintarelli was at the bottom of the list at 1,470 euros, which is roughly $1,635, while No. 147, Jason Knutzon, was at the midpoint with 119,620 euros, equivalent to $133,077. That same year, Anirban Lahiri led 186 players on the Asian Tour money list, earning $1,139,084, while Tseng Hong-sheng was last in earnings at only $600.
Several developmental pro tours are based in the U.S., commonly referred to as “mini-tours.” Two of the most prominent were the National Golf Association (NGA) Hooters and the eGolf Pro Tours. In 2015, these two tours were purchased and consolidated by Golf Interact into what is now known as the SwingThought Tour. Justin Martinson led 169 Swing Thought money winners in 2015, earning $28,326, while 17 players were tied for last at $270. Travis Williamson was at the midpoint, ranking 85th with $1,850.
Some top golf pros actually earn much more money off the course than they do playing! For example, two pro golfers were among Forbes 2015 Top 10 Highest-Paid Athletes in the World. Phil Mickelson was number 8, earning $50.8 million in 2015, only $2.8 million of which came through tournament winnings. Right behind him at number 9 was none other than Tiger Woods, who despite struggling through much of the season with a variety of injuries, only earning $600,000 through tournament play, still managed to pull in an incredible $50.6 million! He had topped Golf Digest’s Highest Paid Golfers list over the the first 12 years of its existence, but in 2016 he was surpassed by Jordan Spieth, who earned over $53 million. Number 5 on this list is the King himself, Arnold Palmer, who retired nearly 10 years prior from tournament golf, but still earned $40 million through a variety of sources, including golf-related endorsements, licensing and appearance fees. Not a bad gig.
Club professionals may win some money in local or regional tournaments they play in, but they earn most of their income from regular paychecks, often supplemented by lesson fees and pro shop revenue. According to the PGA of America’s compensation survey for 2010, PGA head pros made a median of $68,600, with a range from $40,000 to $140,000. Assistant pros who are full PGA members made a median of $37,000, ranging from $22,000 to $59,000. In contrast, assistants who are apprentices made a median of $28,000, with a range of $18,000 to $43,000 per year.