Cameron Smith collected $2.5 million for winning the Open Championship and breaking Rory McIlroy’s heart—along with the tickers of thousands of fans who showed up at the Old Course expecting one of their favorite sons to hoist the Claret Jug. McIlroy started the day with a four-shot lead over Smith, but the 28-year-old from Australia shot a final-round 64, including a blistering six under on the back nine, to take the title.
Smith also won this year’s Tournament of Champions ($1.46 million) and Players ($3.6), pushing his earnings to $7.3 million for the year. All told, Smith emerges as the greatest beneficiary of golf’s escalating purse warfare. The Open hiked its payout to $14 million this year, marking a new high but placing it fourth among the four majors, following the U.S. Open ($17.5 million) and the Masters and PGA Championship ($15 million each).
“Well, the purse is up 22% year over year and up 60% since 2016. So it’s a big increase,” R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said during a media session before the start of the event.
He also made clear that pumped-up purses aimed at grabbing headlines and appeasing money-hungry professionals came at a price. “What I’m concerned about on purse growth is that the R&A’s responsibility is much broader than just a purse in the championship,” he said. “And I spend a lot of time trying to balance up how do I make enough revenues to be able to move with the times on how the sport’s growing and also continue to invest and increase the investment into amateur golf, the AIG Women’s Open, bringing up equality of pay, and being able to balance all of those is an increasing challenge.”
The R&A and the USGA are golf’s two governing bodies. They run championships (most for amateurs), set and maintain The Rules of Golf, run the official handicap system and fund programs that do everything from environmental research to supporting women’s golf events and participation. But while the USGA tends to the States, the R&A oversees the rest of the golfing world, 148 countries in all.
In 2019, the last year of full pre-pandemic numbers, the R&A put $19.1 million into developing the game. That included, according to its annual report, “grants to national associations,” money to expand the Faldo Series—junior events that have had 40,000 participants aged 12 to 21 around the world—into existing and new territories, and funding for, among other things, “the All Africa Junior Trophy, the South American Junior Championship, the South American Amateur Championships, the World Junior Girls Championship and a number of European championships for men, women, boys and girls.” (The USGA put $37 million into grow-the-game efforts in 2021.)
The discussion of investments came up in connection (surprise, surprise) to LIV Golf. The upstart circuit as a whole, and CEO Greg Norman in particular, has from the outset claimed its raison de etre is growing the game around the world, although it’s not clear exactly how 48 players teeing it up in eight 54-hole events (five of them in the US) will achieve that end.
Slumbers is among the skeptical. “In my opinion the continued commentary that [LIV] is about growing the game is just not credible and if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve,” he said.
LIV to Give, the series’ charitable foundation, has pledged $100 million “to support a broad range of initiatives targeting education, environmental sustainability, golf development programs, and the well-being of communities in the short and long term,” according to a release. It’s unclear over what time frame the $100 million will be dispersed and the exact source of the funding, since the release says it will “implement a framework that commits LIV Golf, team franchises, and its players to support its mission.” So far LIV has donated roughly $1 million to local charities around the host cities of its first two events.
Every PGA Tour event donates to local charities and the Tour puts total contributions through tournaments at $3.3 billion, and the R&A’s “Playbook,” launched in 2017, pledged $200 million to golf development over 10 years.
“We believe,” Slumbers said, “the game needs to focus on increasing participation, achieving greater diversity, and making sure that golf is truly open to all, rather than this narrow debate involving a small number of players.”
Smith is doing his part to spread the wealth Down Under.