The best golfers in the world are in Massachusetts this week for the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline. The historic club hosted the 1913 Open, immortalized in print and film by The Greatest Game Ever Played, while the 2022 version will instead be “The Most Awkward Game Ever Played,” as some of the 17 banned LIV Golf players tee it up with their peers for the first time.
Golf’s 10 highest-paid players earned a combined $328 million in prize money and endorsements in the 12 months through May 2022, led by Tiger Woods ($73.5 million)—who won’t be playing this week as he rehabilitates from injuries—and Rory McIlroy ($38.4 million), but the Saudi-backed LIV Golf has torched the financial landscape of the sport moving forward.
The playbook for golfers making money was relatively straightforward for decades. Win events—the bigger the better—and well-heeled corporate marketers came calling with rich endorsement deals to supplement prize money or, in the case of the biggest stars, vastly outstrip it. Merely by avoiding controversy, top players could rely on the sport to serve as a decades-long ATM machine. The playbook is dead.
LIV Golf offers events with prize money more than twice what players earn on the PGA. Charles Schwartzel pocketed $4 million for winning the inaugural 54-hole LIV Golf event in London. First place at this week’s Open is $3.15 million, up from $2.25 million 2021, in what is typically one of the most challenging course setups on the Tour annually. On Wednesday, the United States Golf Association, which organizes the tournament, announced that overall prize money will be increased by $5 million, bringing the total purse to $17.5 million.
For the rival upstarts of Saudi Arabia, the $255 million in LIV prize money and bonuses over eight events in 2022 is just the cherry on top for the biggest stars. The competing tour offered signing-on fees that have reportedly topped $100 million in the cases of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. Our one-year earnings estimates through May do not include any LIV payouts.
Sponsors have fled Mickelson (Amstel Light, KPMG, Workday), Johnson (Royal Bank of Canada) and DeChambeau (Rocket Mortgage), along with Graeme McDowell (RBC) and Lee Westwood (UPS). Mickelson took most of the early fallout—from fans and sponsors—when his derogatory comments about the Saudis to author Alan Shipnuck were revealed. The other golfers to sign with the Greg Norman-fronted series weighed similar consequences, but the chance to earn more than any sponsors could provide for light work was enough to land commitments.
“It was a business decision, first and foremost,” DeChambeau said Monday, in his first public comments since LIV announced he had joined the upstart tour. “That’s all there was to it. It’s given me a lot more opportunities outside of the game of golf and given me more time with my family and my future family.”
The PGA saw the writing on the wall with LIV and adjusted its system to try to keep the stars in the fold. Last year, it introduced the Player Impact Program, with $40 million in awards to the 10 players who generate the most interest in the sport; the PIP is worth $50 million this year and will have three openings after 2021 awardees Mickelson, Johnson and DeChambeau committed to LIV.
In 2022, the Tour also raised prize money 16% to a record $427 million and boosted the FedEx Cup pool to $75 million from $60 million, with a 20% raise for the winner to $18 million. None of those carrots were enough to stop the defections.
Sportico’s earnings estimates, based on conversations with golf industry insiders, include prize money, endorsements, appearance fees, licensing and golf course design work performed in the 12 months ending May 31.
Woods has been the highest-paid golfer annually signed he turned pro in 1996, armed with a five-year, $40 million contract with Nike. He only played two official PGA Tour events during our scoring period, but still earned an estimated $65 million off the course from endorsements, memorabilia, appearance fees and his course design business. In addition, Woods ranked first in the inaugural PIP, despite injuries keeping him off the course, and received the top-level $8 million bonus.
LIV did its best to land the biggest star in the game, with a “high nine-figures” offer, according to Norman. “I’ve decided for myself that I’m supporting the PGA Tour,” Woods said at the PGA Championship last month. “That’s where my legacy is.”
The World's Highest-Paid Golfers
1. Tiger Woods: $73.5 million
Prize money: $8.5 million (including PIP); Off-course: $65 million
The Swoosh is still in the endorsement stable for Woods, but the other names have changed. He has a dozen other sponsorship partners, like Rolex, Bridgestone Golf, Centinel Spine, Hero, Kowa and Monster Energy.
2. Rory McIlroy: $38.4 million
Prize money: $10.4 million; Off-course: $28 million
McIlroy signed a multiyear extension this year with his club and ball sponsor, TaylorMade. Their partnership started in 2017. The 33-year-old has won four major titles, but the last was in 2014. His third-place finish in the PIP was worth $3.5 million.
3. Phil Mickelson: $37.1 million
Prize money: $7.1 million; Off-course: $30 million
Mickelson’s sponsors did not bail on Lefty until after most of our earnings score period was finished, so his endorsement earnings will tumble much further. In addition to the defections, Callaway “paused” its relationship with the 45-time PGA Tour winner. Luxury watch brand Rolex is sticking with Phil. Their partnership traces back three decades to 1992.
4. Jordan Spieth: $32.4 million
Prize money: $10.4 million; Off-course: $22 million
The former world No. 1 had his ranking fall as low as 92nd in early 2021, but 10 Top 5 finishes since then have him back in the Top 10. In April, Under Armour announced it signed a four-year extension with the Texan that was added to the end of the 10-year agreement signed in 2015. The partnership now runs until 2029.
5. Patrick Cantlay: $28.3 million
Prize money: $23.3 million; Off-course: $5 million
Cantlay nabbed the PGA Tour’s biggest cash prize last year, the FedEx Cup. He edged Jon Rahm at the Tour Championship to capture the $15 million winner’s share. The 30-year-old has won four Tour titles over the last 12 months, after winning three during his first nine years as a pro. His sponsors include Marcus, Hugo Boss, Titleist, Footjoy and ADP.
6. Justin Thomas: $26.4 million
Prize money: $13.4 million; Off-course: $13 million
Thomas gave the staid golf clothing industry a new look in 2022 when he sported joggers on the course, thanks to an endorsement deal with Grayson Clothiers. Good timing for the apparel brand. Months later, the American captured his second major title, the 2022 PGA Championship. Other JT sponsors include Acushnet/Titleist, CITI, Lineage Logistics, Rolex and Whoop.
7. Jon Rahm: $24.9 million
Prize money: $15.9 million; Off-course: $9 million
Last year, the Spaniard joined Callaway’s endorsement roster, after working with TaylorMade since he turned pro in 2016. The equipment switch didn’t hurt his play, as he won the PGA Player of the Year award and the Vardon Trophy, awarded to the Tour leader in scoring average. He also banked $5 million for his runner-up finish in the FedEx Cup.
8. Dustin Johnson: $23.9 million
Prize money: $6.9 million; Off-course: $17 million
Johnson ranks third in career prize money with $74 million, behind Woods ($121 million) and Mickelson ($95 million). His off-course income got a boost from Coca-Cola’s $8 billion purchase of BodyArmor. Johnson joined the sports drink as a brand ambassador in 2016 and received an equity stake as part of his agreement. Those shares were worth roughly $6 million after the Coca-Cola deal, according to one source who was not authorized to discuss publicly.
9. Hideki Matsuyama: $22.3 million
Prize money: $6.3 million; Off-course: $16 million
Matsuyama and his marketing team have taken a measured approach with his off-course commitments after his historic 2021 Masters win that made him the first Japanese player to win a men’s golf major. He did add a three-year pact with Japanese IT and consulting firm NTT Data.
10. Collin Morikawa: $20.1 million
Prize money: $11.1 million; Off-course: $9 million
Morikawa has made his wins count, with two majors among his five tournament victories, including the 2021 British Open, which triggered lucrative bonuses from his dozen-plus sponsors, like Adidas, Kowa, Grant Thornton, UGP and US Bank.