January 6, 2008

The Golf Digest 50

The rich get richer: The money on tour gets another boost (and then there's that tidy retirement fund). No wonder Tiger's approaching $1 billion

Money, sings Cyndi Lauper, changes everything. Money, the Beatles insist, is what they want. And money, as we are told in the musical "Cabaret," makes the world go round. Maybe Cyndi, the Fab Four and Sally Bowles should have taken up golf. The ka-ching of the cash register hit its highest note yet in 2007, as the minimum needed to qualify for the fifth annual Golf Digest 50 all-encompassing money list topped $4 million for the first time and Tiger Woods earned more than $22 million in prize money and approached $100 million in off-course earnings.

Several remarkable occurrences affected the financial landscape of professional golf last year:

$ $ $

The PGA Tour poured more than $30 million into the game via the FedEx Cup, and by moving the Tour Championship to September, it freed big-name players to make autumn a windfall of appearance fees by competing -- for a price -- in Japan, Korea, Malaysia and China.

"I'm very thankful that Barclays has made it possible for me to come to play the Barclays Singapore Open," said Phil Mickelson, cleverly mentioning the sponsor's name twice in one sentence, a barely veiled reference to the seven-figure appearance fee he got for a rare -- for him -- trip to Asia.

"How can I say it?" Ernie Els adds. "At the end of the year you've got the wheelbarrow out." As one multiple major-championship winner once said: "The best place to finish in an overseas event is second. You get a good check, justify your appearance fee and don't have to go back to defend."

$ $ $

An unprecedented seven players in one year -- four women and three men -- experienced the lucrative joy of winning a first major championship. For the men, winning a major triggers performance bonuses and drives up appearance fees that can mean several million dollars immediately and much more when new endorsement deals are signed.

$ $ $

The financial benefit, like the endorsement deals, is less for the women but is still hundreds of thousands immediately and more later. A first-time male major winner's earnings "will generally double and, depending on the circumstances, could easily go up by a multiple of 10," says IMG's Guy Kinnings, whose London office handles British Open champion Padraig Harrington. "The global impact of a major victory provides the ability to get to territories that perhaps you wouldn't have gotten to before and invitations to tournaments at the end of the season."

$ $ $

Tiger surpassed the $100-million mark in career winnings and topped $750 million in overall career earnings. Tiger remains not only the dominant player in the game and the premier cash cow in all of sports, but he has also pulled his colleagues into prosperity. It's good to be king in golf, but it's not bad to be a prince or princess, either. Just 20 years ago, Curtis Strange became the first golfer to win $1 million in a season. In 2007, 158 players passed that milestone: 99 on the PGA Tour, 15 on the Champions Tour, seven LPGA Tour players and 37 from assorted tours. In 1996, the year Woods turned pro, nine players won $1 million on the PGA Tour, Tom Lehman leading at almost $1.8 million and No. 125 pulling in nearly $170,000.

My how Tiger has changed things. This year, Woods won almost $23 million when you include tour and overseas winnings and the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. No. 125 banked more than $785,000. The Tiger money, which started with the massive TV deal the tour negotiated in May 1997 -- a month after Woods' 12-stroke romp in the Masters got a record 14.1 TV rating -- kicked in during the 1999 season and has resulted in a 510-percent increase in No. 1 money since 1996 and a 368-percent boost in No. 125 money. And that's not including FedEx Cup bonuses.

GD Top 50

The women's game also has been enriched. In 1988, the leading money-winner on the LPGA Tour earned more than $350,000. This year Lorena Ochoa topped the list with $4,364,994. Prize money grew from $26.5 million in 1996 to more than $54 million in 2007.

In the five years of the Golf Digest 50, the No. 50 position has moved from $2,733,950 to $4,249,676. Woods made $99.8 million off the golf course in 2007 and totaled more than $122 million for the year -- blowing past the $100-million barrier for the first time. His earnings and endorsement-money total of $769,440,709 puts him on pace to become the first $1 billion athlete (see chart).

In Major League Baseball, where the average salary was $2,699,292 in 2006, the opportunities for added value are nowhere near what they are in golf. Only players of a Derek Jeter status get national endorsement deals, and the winner's share for the World Series in 2007 was $308,236 -- about what Jim Furyk got for finishing 11th in FedEx Cup points. And baseball players don't get paid to design ballparks the way golfers do to design courses. The course-construction boom in Asia has been very lucrative for players.

Beyond that, the guys on the PGA Tour have the best pension plan in sports. The deferred-income plan -- a three-tier system in which bonuses are paid for made cuts, position on the money list and top-70 players in each of three season segments -- has made contributions of about $28.5 million in each of the last four years, with the average being about $200,000 per eligible player per year, according to the tour's annual report.

If a 25-year-old player received $200,000 a year in deferred income for 15 years and dipped into the pot at age 52 -- the age at which PGA Tour players can access their plan by special Congressional exemption -- he would have accumulated $9,367,000 if it grew at a very conservative annual rate of 6 percent, according to Joseph J. Choinski of JC Tax & Financial Services. At 12 percent, the sum would be more than $29 million, Choinski said.

About that age-52 thing: A tax bill passed in October 2004 provides an exemption to restrictions on when deferred income can be touched without penalty for a plan "which is established or maintained by an organization incorporated on July 2, 1974." Guess which tour was incorporated on that date? A tour player who has been inactive for two years can dip into his deferred income at the age of 52, instead of 59½, like the rest of us.

There are 11 new names on the GD50 list, but of those who fell off, only three were ranked higher than No. 36, and all three -- Stuart Appleby, Michael Campbell and Jose Maria Olazabal -- were down by more than $1 million in on-course money.

Woods won the PGA Championship in 2007, his 13th career professional major championship, but he was the only one of the eight major winners to have hoisted a grand slam trophy before. Harrington, Ochoa, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr all won majors for the first time.

"Almost all endorsement agreements will have a major-championship victory bonus in them, varying from the lowest of about $100,000 up to $1 million or more for a first major," says Rocky Hambric of Hambric Sports Management, who has 1997 British Open champion Justin Leonard among his clients. "That would go for all industry agreements and corporate deals as well, so a player usually will have three or more of those bonuses." Hambric says a proven player who wins his first major will see his appearance fee, once $50,000 to $100,000, jump to $500,000 or more.

Though men will earn several million almost immediately for winning a first major, Erik Stevens, who manages business deals for his wife, Kerr, says it's "more like low six figures," generated by her winning the U.S. Women's Open. But Stevens says Kerry's appearance fee has gone from $30,000 per outing to $50,000.

"Now events can say they have the U.S. Open champion," says Stevens. "It's like going from Elton John to Sir Elton John."

GD Top 50

Money, sings Cyndi Lauper, changes everything. Money, the Beatles insist, is what they want. And money, as we are told in the musical "Cabaret," makes the world go round. Maybe Cyndi, the Fab Four and Sally Bowles should have taken up golf. The ka-ching of the cash register hit its highest note yet in 2007, as the minimum needed to qualify for the fifth annual Golf Digest 50 all-encompassing money list topped $4 million for the first time and Tiger Woods earned more than $22 million in prize money and approached $100 million in off-course earnings.

Several remarkable occurrences affected the financial landscape of professional golf last year:

$ $ $

The PGA Tour poured more than $30 million into the game via the FedEx Cup, and by moving the Tour Championship to September, it freed big-name players to make autumn a windfall of appearance fees by competing -- for a price -- in Japan, Korea, Malaysia and China.

"I'm very thankful that Barclays has made it possible for me to come to play the Barclays Singapore Open," said Phil Mickelson, cleverly mentioning the sponsor's name twice in one sentence, a barely veiled reference to the seven-figure appearance fee he got for a rare -- for him -- trip to Asia.

"How can I say it?" Ernie Els adds. "At the end of the year you've got the wheelbarrow out." As one multiple major-championship winner once said: "The best place to finish in an overseas event is second. You get a good check, justify your appearance fee and don't have to go back to defend."

$ $ $

An unprecedented seven players in one year -- four women and three men -- experienced the lucrative joy of winning a first major championship. For the men, winning a major triggers performance bonuses and drives up appearance fees that can mean several million dollars immediately and much more when new endorsement deals are signed.

$ $ $

The financial benefit, like the endorsement deals, is less for the women but is still hundreds of thousands immediately and more later. A first-time male major winner's earnings "will generally double and, depending on the circumstances, could easily go up by a multiple of 10," says IMG's Guy Kinnings, whose London office handles British Open champion Padraig Harrington. "The global impact of a major victory provides the ability to get to territories that perhaps you wouldn't have gotten to before and invitations to tournaments at the end of the season."

$ $ $

Tiger surpassed the $100-million mark in career winnings and topped $750 million in overall career earnings. Tiger remains not only the dominant player in the game and the premier cash cow in all of sports, but he has also pulled his colleagues into prosperity. It's good to be king in golf, but it's not bad to be a prince or princess, either. Just 20 years ago, Curtis Strange became the first golfer to win $1 million in a season. In 2007, 158 players passed that milestone: 99 on the PGA Tour, 15 on the Champions Tour, seven LPGA Tour players and 37 from assorted tours. In 1996, the year Woods turned pro, nine players won $1 million on the PGA Tour, Tom Lehman leading at almost $1.8 million and No. 125 pulling in nearly $170,000.

My how Tiger has changed things. This year, Woods won almost $23 million when you include tour and overseas winnings and the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. No. 125 banked more than $785,000. The Tiger money, which started with the massive TV deal the tour negotiated in May 1997 -- a month after Woods' 12-stroke romp in the Masters got a record 14.1 TV rating -- kicked in during the 1999 season and has resulted in a 510-percent increase in No. 1 money since 1996 and a 368-percent boost in No. 125 money. And that's not including FedEx Cup bonuses.

The women's game also has been enriched. In 1988, the leading money-winner on the LPGA Tour earned more than $350,000. This year Lorena Ochoa topped the list with $4,364,994. Prize money grew from $26.5 million in 1996 to more than $54 million in 2007.

In the five years of the Golf Digest 50, the No. 50 position has moved from $2,733,950 to $4,249,676. Woods made $99.8 million off the golf course in 2007 and totaled more than $122 million for the year -- blowing past the $100-million barrier for the first time. His earnings and endorsement-money total of $769,440,709 puts him on pace to become the first $1 billion athlete.

In Major League Baseball, where the average salary was $2,699,292 in 2006, the opportunities for added value are nowhere near what they are in golf. Only players of a Derek Jeter status get national endorsement deals, and the winner's share for the World Series in 2007 was $308,236 -- about what Jim Furyk got for finishing 11th in FedEx Cup points. And baseball players don't get paid to design ballparks the way golfers do to design courses. The course-construction boom in Asia has been very lucrative for players.

Beyond that, the guys on the PGA Tour have the best pension plan in sports. The deferred-income plan -- a three-tier system in which bonuses are paid for made cuts, position on the money list and top-70 players in each of three season segments -- has made contributions of about $28.5 million in each of the last four years, with the average being about $200,000 per eligible player per year, according to the tour's annual report.

If a 25-year-old player received $200,000 a year in deferred income for 15 years and dipped into the pot at age 52 -- the age at which PGA Tour players can access their plan by special Congressional exemption -- he would have accumulated $9,367,000 if it grew at a very conservative annual rate of 6 percent, according to Joseph J. Choinski of JC Tax & Financial Services. At 12 percent, the sum would be more than $29 million, Choinski said.

About that age-52 thing: A tax bill passed in October 2004 provides an exemption to restrictions on when deferred income can be touched without penalty for a plan "which is established or maintained by an organization incorporated on July 2, 1974." Guess which tour was incorporated on that date? A tour player who has been inactive for two years can dip into his deferred income at the age of 52, instead of 59 1/2, like the rest of us.

There are 11 new names on the GD50 list, but of those who fell off, only three were ranked higher than No. 36, and all three -- Stuart Appleby, Michael Campbell and Jose Maria Olazabal -- were down by more than $1 million in on-course money.

Woods won the PGA Championship in 2007, his 13th career professional major championship, but he was the only one of the eight major winners to have hoisted a grand slam trophy before. Harrington, Ochoa, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr all won majors for the first time.



GD Top 50


"Almost all endorsement agreements will have a major-championship victory bonus in them, varying from the lowest of about $100,000 up to $1 million or more for a first major," says Rocky Hambric of Hambric Sports Management, who has 1997 British Open champion Justin Leonard among his clients. "That would go for all industry agreements and corporate deals as well, so a player usually will have three or more of those bonuses." Hambric says a proven player who wins his first major will see his appearance fee, once $50,000 to $100,000, jump to $500,000 or more.

Though men will earn several million almost immediately for winning a first major, Erik Stevens, who manages business deals for his wife, Kerr, says it's "more like low six figures," generated by her winning the U.S. Women's Open. But Stevens says Kerry's appearance fee has gone from $30,000 per outing to $50,000.

"Now events can say they have the U.S. Open champion," says Stevens. "It's like going from Elton John to Sir Elton John."

GD Top 50