Tiger Woods is no longer the top earning golfer in the world... and Rory McIlroy isn't either
They say when it hits the wallet it hurts the most and although Tiger Woods is hardly rounding that dogleg which leads to Skid Row, be sure that the annual league table on golf’s highest earners will sting.
In the 13 years that the American magazine Golf Digest has been publishing its money list, Woods has always been No 1, amassing greenback even more impressively than he has located greens. Until this time. Courtesy of three back operations, Woods is down in third place in the estimates, with on-course and off-course figures amounting to $48.5m (€44.6m).
Phil Mickelson will take some pleasure in leapfrogging his nemesis with $52m (€47.9), but, just his luck, still has to bow to the young American who the game is starting to whisper could be the “new Tiger. In his remarkable 2015, Spieth’s two majors and FedEx Cup victory brought the 22-year-old a cool $53m (€48.8m). Not bad for the second full year of his career.
Of course, there will be those who use this table to bash a few more nails into Woods’s competitive career, but as Ron Sirak, the author of the Golf Digest report, noted this is actually further evidence of his greatness and his staggering impact on his sport.
If there had been no Woods then Spieth would not be the youngest sportsman ever to make more than $50m in 12 months; Rory McIlroy would not have loaded another $47m(€43.2m) in his already crammed locker; and nine other under-30s would not be in the Golf Digest top 50.
Woods changed everything, quintupling purses and bringing in blue-chip firms to back not only him but the tournaments in which he may or may not have competed. Suddenly, the modern professional became richer by association, although that association on the scoreboard was often humiliating. No matter, when Tiger won they all won. And the amazing thing is that now that he is not winning they are still winning.
Woods hauled the Royal and Ancient game into the top echelons of sport’s money-making divisions. He is credited with highlighting to the young that you could still look like an athlete and be a golfer and still be cool and golfer. No doubt, he did do that. But more importantly he showed that you could still become super rich and be a golfer and whatever anyone might say about the power of the golf bug there is no more beautiful lure like the filthy lucre.
It can be seen in the make-up of professional golf at this very moment. The likes of Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson might beg to differ, but in the last seismic few years, a new generation, “the Tiger generation” has taken over and at the vanguard is “the big four”. Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are also in the top five and under-30 and are also racking up huge numbers for their agents. Between them, they pulled in $84m in of-course deals in 2015 and this was when their stars were still rising. The representatives of all four will be confident in rising the ante still further, to levels which would make Premier League footballers jealous.
Naturally there are critics who blanch at the astronomical sums and believe the scenario to be ridiculous and some of the 10 per-centers hardly help when talking about their clients as “brands”. But the truth is that the quartet all have very genuine characters, which come complete with heartwarming back stories.
Spieth, the modest phenomena who has taken such perspective from his disabled sister; McIlroy, the son of unprivileged parents who took on multiple jobs to fund his dream; Day, the young alcoholic who overcame the loss of his father, and Fowler, the funky driver of Japanese heritage whose grandparents were imprisoned for their ethniticity during the Second World War. They are a colourful bunch with at least one thing in common.
They all watched Woods as youngsters and wanted to be him; and now they are, in earnings at least. They owe him so much and at the beginning of this exciting era, so, too does the game of golf. That should not be forgotten.