After shooting a five-under 275 and surviving a three-hole playoff at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Justin Thomas walked away with the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy and the second major of the year, but every player won, as the buckets of money sloshing around professional golf continued to get dumped in golfers’ bank accounts.
If the field caught a Saturday morning chill after temperatures dropped from the 90s on Thursday and Friday to roughly 50 at the start of Round 3, they were warmed by the PGA of America’s surprise announcement that the event’s total purse would jump from $12 million to $15 million. That meant the winner would pocket nearly $2.7 million and anyone finishing alone in third would clear seven figures.
The move kept the PGA on pace with the Masters, which bumped its 2022 purse from $11.5 to $15 million, and reflected a larger trend on the PGA Tour, where the total tournament purse for the year will grow to $427 million (from $367 million in ’21) on top of another $105 million in bonus pools and payouts. The highest-paying individual event remains The Players Championship, which doles out $20 million, including $3.6 to the winner.
Now the attention shifts to the year’s final two majors, the mid-June U.S. Open, which had a purse of $12.5 million last year, and the mid-July Open Championship, which paid $11.5 million in ’21. They’re likely feeling the heat to shake out the couch cushions and proffer something in the $15M neighborhood.
Oddly, the two men most responsible for the prize money inflation were not present when the checks were handed out. Phil Mickelson remained in a self-imposed timeout after offending nearly everyone in golf not named Greg Norman with his comments about overlooking human rights atrocities in favor of “leverage.” Phil’s suffering in the short term, but without doubt Norman’s LIV Golf, with its $25 million per event pot leading up to a $50 million team finale, is influencing the check writing on Tour. Beyond the payouts, Mickelson’s seeming willingness to work with LIV has legitimized the rival series.
Tiger Woods, who’s done more to raise purses on Tour over the last 25 years than anyone, took as firm an opposing stance as a one-legged man can in his pre-PGA press session, saying in defense of the Tour, “I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. The Tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.”
Of Mickelson, he said, “It’s always disappointing when the defending champion is not here. Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the legacy of the Tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that. But I think that some of his views on how the Tour could be run, should be run, there’s been a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here. I mean, he’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back.”
On the course, Woods looked like he did in the Masters—admirable and impressive for the first two rounds before a blustery Saturday pushed him out of contention. This time around though, Woods could not finish. As much as his third-round 79 hurt, it was the pain from his hobbled right leg that forced him to withdraw with 18 holes to go.
What that means for the U.S. Open at The Country Club is anyone’s guess, but Tiger might be better served skipping the national championship to rest up for the British Open. It will take place at St. Andrews, where he’s won two of his three Claret Jugs, and the wide, relatively flat course will be easier on his body—if the height of the Scottish summer can supply four days with temps in at least the 60s.
It all comes back to the digits.