In addition to having his name etched on the claret jug and attaining the coolest title in the game, “champion golfer of the year,” the winner of next week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool will receive a check for a record $3 million from a total purse of $16.5 million. Both figures, announced by the R&A on Wednesday a week ahead of the major, represent 18 per cent increases from last year when the champion at St. Andrews, Cameron Smith, earned $2.5 million from a prize fund of $14 million.
“Our aim is to ensure the Open remains at the pinnacle of world golf and we have almost doubled the prize fund since 2016,” said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers in a statement. “While we are seeing substantial increases in prize money across the men’s professional game, we are fulfilling our wider obligation to the sport by elevating the AIG Women’s Open, strengthening pathways in the elite amateur game and encouraging more people around the world to play golf. We believe that getting this balance right is vital to the long-term future of the sport.”
Lower down next week’s leaderboard, those coming up short of first place won’t be doing too badly. Both second ($1.708 million) and third place ($1.095 million) will be paid seven-figure sums. The man in 31st place will see his bank balance boosted by $104,500. Those qualifying for the weekend by finishing inside the top 70 and ties after 36 holes will earn in excess of $35,000.
Even those who miss the cut aren’t forgotten. The leading 10 professional golfers and ties will be paid $12,000; next 20 and ties $10,000; and the remainder of professional golfers and ties $8,500.
All of which is in stark contrast to the early days of golf’s oldest major. The first three Opens (1860-1862) offered zero prize money. In 1863, the £10 pot was shared amongst the eight professionals in the 14-man field. By 1893 the total purse had leapt to £100. Steady rises saw the first £1,000 Open take place in 1946, a figure that increased ten-fold over the next 20 years. When Peter Thomson won his fifth Open at Royal Birkdale in 1965 he was paid £1,750, more than twice what he earned for his first victory in 1954.
By 1977 the total purse was £100,000. Then by 1993 it was £1,000,000, the year champion Greg Norman won £100,000. In 2011, the prize fund had risen to £5 million, a number that reached $10.25 million by 2017, when the R&A had changed its prize payment to American dollars. Only three years later, Collin Morikawa became the first Open champion to be paid $2 million when he won at Royal St. George’s.