The 25 Most Ludicrous Paydays in Pro Golf
In this golden age of golf, where 99 players made at least $1 million this season on the PGA Tour, there is obviously plenty of money to be made. Purses totaled $279 million this year and that doesn’t count all the unofficial money that’s out there to be grabbed.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it, that back in the early 1950s, the first endorsement contract signed by Arnold Palmer was with a soup company for $5,000?
But from then until now, as the game evolved, more and more financial opportunities have become available and, predictably, more and more of those opportunities have included ludicrous paydays for the best players in the world.
Whether they come in the form of endorsement deals or appearance fees or golf’s “silly season,” some folks in professional golf have made some outlandish cash all across the world. Four-time major champion Ernie Els says it with a wry smile when he calls golf’s postseason “wheelbarrow time,” as in pushing the wheelbarrow up to the pay window and loading up.
Here’s my list of 25 of the most ludicrous paydays.
25. Justin Rose
Justin Rose won the $7m Turkish Airlines World Golf Final at Antalya in Turkey, raking in $1.5 million in the process.
Pretty nice payday for having to beat just 23 other players.
24. John Daly
John Daly gets between $30,000-50,000 for an appearance booking fee.
For that you get Daly drinking all the Diet Coke he can get his hands on, smoking innumerable cigarettes and maybe he’ll hit a golf ball off a Coke can.
23. Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus had a policy of never taking any cash to play in a national championship, but he wasn’t averse to be paid for non-playing work.
In 1976, Nicklaus entered (and won for the fifth time) the Australian Open
He didn’t take an appearance fee, but he did get paid nicely to remodel the Alister Mackenzie-designed Australian Golf Club in Kensington.
22. Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson didn’t play in the 2012 Bob Hope Classic. Instead, he opted for the Abu Dhabi Championship where he was reportedly paid more than $1 million to participate.
Mickelson said part of the reason for going to the Middle East was “for me and my family to experience a lot of different cultures and learn from them.”
21. Michael Clark II
If you remember the name Michael Clark II, you have a very good memory.
He was a journeyman minor leaguer who caught fire the week of the 2000 John Deere Classic where he won $468,000 for a playoff victory over Kirk Triplett.
He’s made sporadic appearances on the PGA Tour but was definitely a flash in the pan.
20. Tiger Woods
19. Martin Kaymer
Martin Kaymer won the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, his first worldwide win since the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions. He beat 11 other players and earned $1.25 million.
The quality of that win could be looked up on in a little better light by the fact that six of his Ryder Cup teammates were among the 12 in this competition.
18. John Bickerton
In 2006, a guy named John Bickerton won the French Open.
Never heard of him?
Well, his last win came 17 years before that and it had been 287 tournaments between victories.
Bickerton won the biggest check of his career, $598,038, beating players like Malcolm Campbell, Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter in the process.
17. Jim Furyk
In 2010, Jim Furyk becomes the first winner of the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, taking home $10 million.
It was an astonishing amount of money and would get more astonishing over the next couple years.
16. Greg Norman
In 1996, Greg Norman received $300,000—the same amount as the purse—to play the Ford South Australian Open.
Oh yeah, when the Great White Shark won the event, he cashed in a $40,500 first-place check as well.
The year before at the Dubai Desert Classic Norman led a contingent of six of the top eight players in the world to the desert were paid a total of $1.3 million in appearance fees, led by the $300,000 in fuel allowance Norman received for his jet.
15. Lee Trevino
Here’s one that hasn’t happened to too many PGA Tour professionals.
In 1977, Lee Trevino not only is paid a ridiculous sum of money to meet and play golf with Morocco’s King Hassan, but when he gets there, he gets the royal treatment for three days in Rabat.
On the fourth day, Trevino and the king meet and play seven holes of golf on the king’s private nine-hole course.
Trevino makes five birdies, shares a glass of champagne with Hassan and goes home.
14. Tiger Woods
At his greatest, Tiger Woods was paid a million dollars to play in an event in Hamburg, Germany in 2000.
That was the biggest appearance fee ever paid to a golfer to that point.
In today's standards, that's almost the going rate.
13. Arnold Palmer
As The King, you shouldn’t be surprised that Arnold Palmer would be well-compensated for his time.
In exchange for playing in the 1978 New Zealand Airlines-Shell Open, Palmer asked that he and five friends get a 10-day vacation Down Under with fishing, ballooning and a trip to a health spa.
12. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson
Even though the PGA Tour has well-defined rules against appearance fees, Tiger Woods ($1.5 million) and Phil Mickelson ($1 million) reportedly signed “personal-services” contracts with Greenbrier owner Jim Justice and, just by chance, both played in the tournament in July.
Neither made the cut so Justice’s investment turned out to be a bad one.
11. Todd Hamilton
The 2004 Open Championship was a journeyman’s dream come true.
Todd Hamilton turned pro in 1987 and hadn’t won on the PGA Tour until March of 2004 when he won the Honda Classic. At Royal Troon, he held a one-stroke lead over Ernie Els and was two shots better than Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen through 54 holes.
Hamilton bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall into a tie with Els, who birdied two of the final three holes to get to that point.
Hamilton parred all four holes of the playoff, while Els bogeyed the third hole.
For his unbelievable effort, Hamilton won $1,348,272.
10. Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy was criticized for looking uninterested on the way to missing the cut in the 2012 Hong Kong Open.
The tournament had a $2 million purse, but some estimates had the current No. 1 player in the world being paid an appearance fee in excess of $750,000.
9. Brandt Snedeker
Brandt Snedeker had been playing fairly well, but he got it all together as the season and FedEx Cup playoffs wound down.
He won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup and took home a payday of $11.4 in September.
He won $1.4 million for the Tour Championship and the $10 million bonus for the FedEx Cup title.
8. Ben Curtis
While Todd Hamilton’s victory the next year would make people shake their heads, the victory by unheralded Ben Curtis could easily be called one of biggest upsets ever in sports.
Curtis’ participation at Royal St. George’s Golf Club was his first major championship.
He trailed by three shots going into the final round, but made six birdies in his first 11 holes to grab the lead.
His wheels wobbled greatly on the back nine, however, making bogeys on 12, 14, 15 and 17. He made par on 18 and then watched as Thomas Bjorn finished four-over on the final four holes to hand the trophy to Curtis.
He earned $1,112,720 for his effort, but returned to being a marginal player thereafter.
7. Bill Haas
Bill Haas was not entirely unheralded when he ran the table at the Tour Championship, winning both the FedEx Cup and Tour Championships.
But again, the idea that a guy can win $1.4 million for winning the tournament culminating the PGA Tour season and get a $10 million bonus is, well, ludicrous.
And on top of that, he played a miracle shot from a greenside water hazard on the 72nd to insure his victory.
6. Kodak Million Dollar Challenge
Here’s one for you.
The Kodak Million Dollar Challenge.
It works this way: a player needs to play 18 of 30 holes Kodak picks as the most picturesque on the PGA Tour.
That, of course, eliminates most of the upper echelon players because they don’t play 18 times so that gives some of the Tour's lesser lights a chance to make some big cash.
Anyway, at the end of the year, the player with the lowest 18-hole score wins $1 million.
Troy Merritt won this year’s event but because the money isn’t considered official, he still missed out on getting his PGA Tour card for next year.
5. Tiger Woods
In 2012, Tiger Woods plays for the first time in Malaysia since 1999, competing in the CIMB.
Maybe the reported $3 million appearance fee might have had something to do with the decision.
Woods was in contention throughout the tournament, but fell victim to a great fourth round by eventual winner Nick Watney.
4. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
While Justin Rose won the $1.5 million in the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final, Tiger Woods ($3 million) and Rory McIlroy ($1 million) certainly didn’t go home empty-handed.
Oh, and both of them lost early in the event.
3. Tiger Woods
There might be those who would say that the $25-30 million annual pay day Nike gives to Tiger Woods is worth every penny it gets.
And it certainly is dwarfed by some endorsement deals in other sports.
But it still comes down to playing that company’s equipment, wearing its clothes and doing some commercials and appearances.
So $25-30 million a year seems to qualify for ludicrous.
2. Michelle Wie
The hype that preceded Michelle Wie was much more significant than anything she has accomplished since.
In 2005, Wie signed endorsement deals with Nike and Sony valued at over $10 million per year.
She’s won twice on the LPGA Tour, the biggest of which was the 2010 CN Canadian Women’s Open.
She’s failed miserably in her ill-fated attempts to play in PGA Tour events.
1. Rory McIlroy
In the upcoming days, the world’s No. 1 player is going to sign a mega-contract, reportedly with Nike, to represent them in clothing, equipment, etc.
The rumors seem to be settling around the 10-year, $250 million range.
That’s a nice range and will put him in the very nice neighborhood of Mr. Woods.
Ludicrous, but a very nice neighborhood.