News & Opinion

PGA Tour goes too far in spreading wealth

A couple of weeks ago, when I was taping my weekly “One Take” video for Morning Read, I came back to a familiar topic. I have expressed my views numerous times, and after receiving news of the R&A’s total purse for the 2019 British Open, I think it’s worth discussing again.

The winners of golf events worldwide receive far less money than they deserve.

On the PGA Tour and for this year’s British Open, the winner will receive 18 percent of the total purse, which along with the Claret Jug and the title of “champion golfer of the year,” the payout will be $1,935,000.

Now don’t get me wrong: Almost $2 million for winning a golf tournament is not hay, as they say, but is it enough?

In a sports world in which many professionals have gotten rich despite not being among the best in their field, we almost coddle the average players at the expense of the good and great players.

Consider Patrick Rodgers. He was No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings before leaving Stanford to turn pro in 2014. At 26, he has amassed $6,065,285 in earnings on the PGA Tour in 123 starts as a professional, or $49,311 per start. In that time, Rodgers has recorded 12 top 10s, including three runners-up.

PGA Tour, Charles Howell III
With nearly $38.4 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour, Charles Howell III should have no trouble finding a coin to mark his ball.

Not a bad career, but doesn’t $6 million-plus seem like a lot for a player whose best finish is a playoff loss in the 2018 RSM Classic to Charles Howell III?

Speaking of Howell, he has won only three times in his long professional career of 545 PGA Tour events, amassing 92 top 10s since turning pro in 2000. With career earnings of $38,392,500, he ranks 19th on the PGA Tour’s all-time list.

That’s not a typo: 19th in career earnings, with three victories.

Now, think about what Tiger Woods has accomplished: 81 victories (No. 2 all-time) and $118,663,768 (No. 1). While Woods clearly eclipses Rodgers and Howell, his ranking per victory doesn’t seem fair.

If we would have increased his take from 18 percent to, say, 30 percent, his earnings would eclipse anyone’s numbers by even more than the $28 million lead that he holds on No. 2 Phil Mickelson. Considering Woods’ dominance in golf for more than a decade, that seems only fair.

Just add another $500,000 for each victory and Woods would have pocketed another $40.5 million.

The opening event of the 1960 PGA Tour season was the Los Angeles Open, with 76 players in the field and a purse of $37,500. Dow Finsterwald won by three shots and pocketed $5,500, or 14.67 percent of the total purse. But of the 76 players who made the cut, only the top 45 finishers were paid.

In San Diego, Phoenix and Texas, only the top 28 and ties were paid, and the rest went home empty-handed.

In the 1960 PGA Championship, there were two cuts – after 36 holes and after 54 holes – with 33 players missing the second cut and not receiving any prize money.

Mediocrity was not rewarded in golf until the 1970s, shortly after the players split from the PGA of America to form what would become the PGA Tour. The players decided to pay out more percentage wise, and to more places.

In 2018, 114 players earned more than $1 million on the PGA Tour, but only 36 players won a total of 48 tournament titles.

I don’t begrudge Justin Thomas and the Tour-leading $8,694,821 that he earned by winning three times last year. If you look at the top 10 players in earnings, No. 7 Tony Finau sticks out at $5,620,138 and no victories in the 2017-18 season. Francesco Molinari ranked 11th but clearly had the superior year.

Does anyone deserve to earn $3 million or more for winning a golf tournament? At the recent Wimbledon tennis tournament, the men’s and women’s winners received $2,983,748. OK, so it’s tennis, but it’s a clear-enough indicator.

The PGA Tour is addressing the problem to a minor extent for next season by reducing the cut from 70 and ties to 65 and ties and also increasing the share of the purse for the winner to 20 percent, but it’s not enough.

Even with the PGA Tour’s upcoming changes in winner percentage, the rewards for mediocrity remain engrained in the system. The FedEx Cup points system will remain unchanged, with 500 points going to the winner of most PGA Tour events, and then the dribble down to anyone making the cut.

It’s just another example of rewarding the masses when the best should be paid at a higher rate.

What if only the top 10 players earned FedEx Cup points, with the winner getting 50 percent of those points?

Maybe one day, but don’t hold your breath.