Earning a living as a professional golfer was once a great struggle for all-but a select few.
But not in 2023. Now, it barely even matters to be good.
Pat Perez, the world no.504, recently earned more than £6million from eight LIV Golf events, despite an average finishing position of 32nd in a 48-man field.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund’s willingness to throw billions at golf has put LIV players Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson inside the top seven highest-paid athletes in 2023.
Johnson has two wins in the last 12 months, both on the LIV tour. Mickelson has none.
Having struck a framework deal with the PIF, the PGA Tour will soon get a large slice of that cake – and professional golfers are set to continue earning more millions than ever before, without necessarily winning.
But the Saudis are not most responsible for the number of modern day golfing millionaires.
That would be Tiger Woods – and he did it simply by being the best.
Before the 15-time major winner burst onto the scene in 1996, the PGA Tour was stuck in a rut without Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Purses had increased at a steady rate of around 4.5 per cent per year between 1984 and 1996, so that by the time Woods turned professional in August 1996, the average purse at a PGA Tour event was around £325,000.
By 2003, Woods had already won eight majors, and the average purse on the PGA Tour was around £778,000, growing at 13 per cent per year since his debut – and 140 per cent in total.
Quite simply, the spectacle of Woods drew more eyes to the game, resulting in more lucrative TV deals for the PGA Tour and more money in players’ pockets.
Woods was unsurprisingly the main beneficiary of his success and took a large proportion of the prize money by winning a record-equalling 81 times on the PGA Tour to date.
But everyone got richer because of the 47-year-old.
In 1996, the 130th-ranked player on the PGA Tour earned £131,000 per season.
PGA Tour players do not get a salary, all expenses are covered by the individual and there is no pay cheque for missing the cut.
It means that after paying to sustain a global golf career, including travel costs and a 10 per cent fee owed to caddies, most golfers outside the top 50 were quite modest earners.
By 2007, the 130th-ranked player on the PGA Tour was earning £575,000 in a year. Today, it is currently £652,000 and the top 106 have all earned more than £1m this season.
Between 2003 and 2023, average earnings grew at a similar rate to before Woods arrived.
They even dipped at one point when Woods started to struggle with injuries, proving his responsibility for the original spike.
More evidence can be found today as, despite scandals and battles with career-threatening injuries, the American remains one of the biggest draws in sport.
Nowadays, fans and sponsors still root for the indestructible miracle-man that Woods has become – and he still moves the needle despite barely playing.
In 2018, when Woods won his first PGA Tour event in five years at the Tour Championship, 7.8m people tuned in for the final round on NBC, representing a 212 per cent rise on the 2.5m who watched the previous year.
Having made golf cool for the masses, Woods also revolutionised sponsorship deals in golf, attracting lucrative endorsement deals for the game’s top players.
Rory McIlroy would not earn an estimated £28m-a-year off the course were it not for Woods.
And what cannot be measured is the financial impact of Woods inspiring a generation.
All of today’s top golfers, such as McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler, idolised Woods in their youth.
Scheffler, who wears TW-branded shoes, has taken home a record-breaking £16.8m on the PGA Tour this season – and the money Woods’ disciples bring to the game themselves is a by-product of his success.
Even Mickelson, Woods’ most famous adversary and fierce critic of the PGA Tour, knows how much he gained from the ‘Tiger Effect’ by being the second-most successful player of the last two decades.
Speaking in 2011, LIV Golf rebel Mickelson said: “There’s nobody in the game who has benefited more from Tiger than myself.
“He drove the purses up. He drove up the TV ratings. He increased the marketing expectations. He raised endorsement values.
“Nobody has been able to capitalise from that as much as I have, so I will always be appreciative for what he has done for me, my family, the game of golf.”
Besides Scheffler, three of the four other most lucrative seasons in PGA Tour history have all come this year, as a result of competition with LIV Golf.
One win at a big event is now enough to be set for life, while it seems inevitable that Woods will not be the only billionaire golfer forever.
The impending Saudi investment into the PGA Tour is set to send purses and bonuses through the roof.
Ironically, Woods will still have a say in how that money reaches players’ pockets.
He recently became a sixth player director on the PGA Tour policy board to take a leading role in how the framework agreement with the PIF gets formalised.
The Saudis actually tried to buy his influence with a high nine-digit offer, which he rejected, and made a second attempt to get him involved with LIV Golf during recent talks with the PGA Tour.
For Woods, money is something to be earned ‘in the dirt’, not snatched at undeserving.
The difference between his legacy and the PIF’s is that Woods’ impact was, and still is, grounded in sporting integrity.
While casual fans tire of the ‘circus’ around every Woods appearance, those inside the game know that even in his extended absence, he remains the most important person in golf.