Obscene golf payouts could be spread out a little, or a lot

When second prize is $5m, you know that No 1 is earning too much money


The 2020/2021 PGA Tour season is over and, with it, the FedExCup.

Officially, Patrick Cantlay is now $15m richer than he was this time last week, and good for him, I say. After a season where he barely scraped in $7.6m, he could probably do with a bit of extra spending money — just to tide him over. Those private jets don’t pay for themselves, you know.

Jokes aside, the PGA Tour has been — albeit somewhat artificially — generating increased interest in their end-of-season events through the FedExCup for the past 14 years now. It feels like just the other day that one needed a degree in advanced mathematics to work out who was going to win the first one.

In many ways the FedExCup has been hugely successful. After that shaky start and a few tweaks to get the formula right, we have now become used to the calculations, the projections and all the drama that comes with missing out on qualifying for the next week’s event.

And though the Tour Championship was a little contrived, with players starting the event on different scores, it was still well worth watching, if only to see which players would fill their wheelbarrows with the obscene amounts of money dished out each year. Like Jon Rahm, whose second-place finish sees him bank a cool $5m. Yes, that’s R75m for coming second.

And how about this remarkable statistic: over the course of a far-from-extraordinary season, where he only won three times, the American pocketed $4,401 — or R66,000 — for every shot hit. 

It may sound like it, but I certainly don’t begrudge players being paid well. They absolutely should be able to make a fortune by virtue of being the very best parts of a very big business. But really, at which point does it become too much? And have we crossed that particular Rubicon?

Anecdotally, while the men were fighting for their piece of the FedEx cash cow, I found myself enthralled by the Solheim Cup, where the top women golfers of Europe and the US were slugging it out — in an event where players receive no prize money at all. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

To put it politely, I find it excessive to offer an annual bonus pool of R1bn to essentially coerce the world’s top golfers to play in events in which they are already handsomely rewarded. Particularly when we are confronted with so many examples of social inequality, in every country, every day.

Imagine putting that kind of money towards golf development. We could really grow this sport that we love and introduce so many new kids to the game.

Or, how about just distributing the cash a little wider? Not all touring professionals rake in the cash. Many golfers, such as South Africans who ply their trade on the European Tour, may appear as though they earn huge piles of money, but once you’ve taken away tax, travel costs, caddies’ fees and payments to all their team members, such as psychologists, nutritionists and agents, there isn’t always that much left over.

The FedEx bonus, on the other hand, is dished out to a minority of players who, for the most part, already have more money than they can spend in one lifetime. Rory McIlroy, at 32 a billionaire in most currencies, has now pocketed a staggering $32.5m in bonus money from the FedEx Cup alone.

That, of course, is over and above the mega millions earned through regular prize money and sponsorship deals.

Who needs that kind of money?

While I can’t argue that Cantlay is a worthy winner of the Tour Championship, I would have dearly loved to see one of our two South Africans win the whole thing. Not purely for patriotic reasons, mind you.

First, the thought of new dad Erik van Rooyen collecting a cheque for R250m would be delightful. He could retire on the spot, aged 31, and spend the rest of his days living off the interest.

If not Van Rooyen, then imagine the delicious irony had UPS ambassador Louis Oosthuizen lifted the FedExCup and cashed the huge cheque of his sponsor’s biggest rival. It would no doubt have called for some very creative PR manoeuvring over the next season.

I suppose the money issue is best summed up by one of the most likable characters on the PGA Tour, American Kevin Kisner.

As one of the shorter hitters on the tour, “Kis” was asked earlier in 2021 about his chances of winning a Major in 2021.

“Well, I’m not going to win at Bethpage Black or Torrey Pines,” was his candid reply.

So why show up at all, then? “Because they give away a lot of money for 20th,” he smiled.

Of course they do — somewhere in the region of $125,000, it turns out. Not too shabby for hitting a little white ball fewer than 300 times.


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