It was once the standard that largely determined whether PGA Tour pros kept or lost their playing privileges for the following year. These days, however, the end-of-the-season money list exists so far in the shadow of the FedEx Cup, you’re hard pressed to find it on the tour’s website. But find it we did as the 2022-23 edition became official upon the conclusion of last week’s BMW Championship (the $75 million on the line at the Tour Championship is technically not prize money but rather FedEx Cup bonus dollars).
A look at the numbers motivated us to take the extra step of compiling data for the past 10 years, along with snapshots from 2003, 1993 and 1983. Comparing all the crazy cash provides a fascinating picture of how things have changed over the years — and really changed the last few seasons. Here are a few things that caught our eye.
Scottie Scheffler just won a lot of money
Scheffler, who never finished outside the top 11 in a single tournament before the Open Championship, was insanely good this year, and his outrageous skill earned him a figure that is almost garish: $21 million and change to top this year’s list. For context, prior to 2022, just one player had ever earned more than $10 million in a single season, and that was Jordan Spieth in his wonder year of 2015. Then in 2021-22, Scheffler broke every record by earning $14 million. Now he has lapped himself, and if he can pull out the FedEx Cup title this week, he’ll claim another $18 million.
Mind you, this is about more than just success; the total money available to players this season on the PGA Tour exceeded $500 million for the first time, an increase of about $140 million last year alone. Scheffler was one of seven tour pros to earn eight figures this season (Jon Rahm was second on this year’s money list with $16 million in earnings). So Scheffler’s haul is a combination of great play and a rising tide.
That rising tide is raising most ships
Among the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list in 2023, the average earnings were $3.79 million, an increase of almost a million dollars from 2022’s $2.84 million. If you look at specific positions on the money list, too, Si Woo Kim’s 30th-place haul of $5.38 million is a jump of $2.5 million from KH Lee’s 30th-place money in 2022. Sam Ryder in 70th ($2.36 million) beat Matt Jones’ 70th total ($1.91 million), and you have to go down to 125th before you find that Nico Echavarria’s $951,000 just fell short of Charles Howell III’s figure of $1.03 million last year. In all, the only thing that stayed relatively steady was the number of players making at least a million dollars. After a big jump in 2021 from 112 to 124 (not counting the shortened COVID year of 2020), it went up to 126 last year, and back to 124 in 2023.
The rich are definitely getting richer
To the tour’s credit, the emphasis on designated events and increasing top prizes didn’t materially affect the earnings of the players lower on the list, although it’s also a fact that the lion’s share of the gains went to the top players. To some extent, that’s again because of great results. Scheffler making 172 per cent more than 2021 top finisher Jon Rahm isn’t just about higher purses. But incrementally the higher positions on the money list saw bigger gains, at No. 30, Si Woo saw a 60-per cent increase, Ryder saw a 21-per cent increase at No. 70, and once you got down to No. 125, there was actually a decrease in earnings. Even when you look at 2013, the amount made by the 125th player, Kevin Chappell, wasn’t that far behind today’s 125 at $647,000. One of the main points of the changes implemented this year was to funnel dollars to the best players, in a model that’s more representative of their worth to the tour, and that very much came to pass.
The prize increases at the top are outpacing inflation by a whole lot
In 1983, Hal Sutton was the top earner on tour, taking home $426,000. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, that would be about $1.38 million today … a sizable increase, but nowhere near the reality of Scheffler’s $21 million haul. You don’t have to look at a 40-year gap, either. Tiger Woods’ total of $8.5 million in 2013 would be worth about $11 million today. Again, not very close. It’s happening at the bottom, too; the tour average for players in the top 125 of $116,000 in 1983 would only be worth $360,000 today, not the $3.8 million tour pros averaged in 2022-23. Golf has become a far richer sport for its top athletes.
This is almost definitely the new normal
This is just simple maths — a big part of the changes this year were a result of the tour trying to compete with LIV Golf. If for whatever reason the merger doesn’t go through, they’re still going to have to compete with LIV Golf, and if it does go through, they’ll have the assets of the PIF at their disposal. There’s no scenario barring some kind of economic depression in which this very expensive toothpaste goes back in the tube. If anything, you’d expect it to go up.