When it comes to prizemoney, Golf offers players the ability to earn millions of dollars well into their 50s, and with the advent of the Champions Tour, many players are still making big wads of cash well into their 60s.
Whereas other athletes have to face the genuine prospect of retiring in their 30s, golfers can continue to earn money long after; this is one of the primary reasons golfers consistently appear on the highest-paid athlete’s lists. Golfers like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have amassed fortunes both on and off the course thanks to their sponsorship deals with brands like Nike, Callaway, Tag Heuer, and GM.
Tiger Woods has won an impressive $120 million in career prizemoney with his off-course earnings making him a billionaire at 34 years of age. Phil Mickelson is not far behind, with career earnings nearing a whopping $93 million and an estimated net worth of $1 billion.
Although Tiger has considerably more wins under his belt, Mickelson has been a consistently high finisher for two decades. Unlike other sports where the winner can take all, Golf rewards the top 10 finishers with some impressive bank; hence Mickelson is not too far behind.
This article aims to shed some light on some of golf’s all-time top prizemoney winners and see how they stack up against some of the best athletes across different sports.
Michael Jordan; Tops the List
There’s one athlete that nearly every person on earth has heard of, and that’s Michael Jordan. For years now, Micheal Jordan has consistently sat atop the list of the highest-paid athletes with an estimated worth of $2.6 billion, according to an article by Sportico.
And when you consider that in his rookie year, Jordan’s salary was just shy of $500,000, it’s absolutely astonishing to think that nearly 30 years later, he’ll earn more than $150 million this year just from his Nike royalties alone.
Of the 25 athletes, Sportico name on their list, five of them are golfers. Tennis players take up the other spots, along with boxers, three soccer players, two Major Leasuge Baseballers, one NFL player, and five NBA players to round out the list.
The top five golfers on the list are
- Tiger Woods, at $2.1 billion
- Arnold Palmer, at $1.5 billion
- Jack Nicklaus, at $1.38 billion
- Phil Mickelson, at $1.01 billion
- Greg Norman, at $815 million
It’s important to remember here that these earnings are “total earnings,” including prize money, business ventures, and endorsements. But as I mentioned earlier, the fact that golfers can have careers that well outspan their counterparts certainly goes a long way to them consistently making the list.
Let’s take a closer look at just how these guys made their fortunes by starting with number five on the list, Greg Norman or The Great White Shark, as he’s known.
Born in the state of Queensland in Australia in 1955, Greg Norman, or “The Great White Shark,” has accumulated a sizeable fortune. The Great White Shark nickname is a reflection of Norman’s bold game style and swashbuckling nature. As a youngster, Greg was introduced to the game relatively late compared to other players and started practicing seriously at 15.
Before that, Norman had played Australian Rules Football and Rugby at a very high level, but after realizing he had golf talent, he turned his attention to turning pro. It took Norman only two years to play off a handicap of scratch. Within a few years, Norman dominated the game in Australia and then moved to the big league by joining the PGA tour.
It’s hard to get an exact figure on Greg Norman’s net worth, with some reports estimating his net worth at $500 million while other reports from Forbes estimate a net worth much closer to $815 million.
Norman accumulated an impressive wins record with 88 wins worldwide and was the first player to rack up more than $10 million in a single season. But Norman is one of the rare athletes who made the vast majority of his fortune off the course. Norman is an incredibly astute businessman, and his Great White Shark brand has its tentacles in numerous different business ventures.
Norman invested heavily in golf course design, golf resorts, wines, clothing, and sporting equipment. A fun fact is that Norman’s wine brand, The Greg Norman Estate, was awarded the 8th best Shiraz globally in 2001.
Greg initially established his company in 1993, and in collaboration with different industries, the brand quickly started bringing in more than $15 million annually. Other ventures and business interests include real estate, finance, food, and even sunglasses.
As a player, Norman was sponsored by golfing brand Cobra, which he made famous for his long straight drives and pinpointed long irons. Norman ended up buying 12% of the Cobra company in 1991, and within five years, Greg had earned more than $40 million alone just off that one deal.
In 2007, Greg was forced to pay $105 million in a divorce settlement to his first wife, Laura Andrassy, a flight attendant. The pair first wed in 1981 before their separation in 2007; they had two children while married. Following the divorce, Greg married famous tennis player Chris Evert; however, the marriage was short-lived, and the pair separated after only a year. Greg is now married to Kirsten Kutner, an interior designer.
Phil Mickelson or “Lefty” sits second on the PGA Tour all-time money leader list, with Tiger Woods atop. Mickelson has earned a whopping $94 million from prizemoney alone, while Woods is the undisputed leader with over $120 million earnings.
According to a 2020 report released by Forbes, Mickelson, now aged 51, earned more than $40.8 million; unbelievably, only $800,000 came from prize money, with the remaining $40 million coming from lucrative sponsorship deals and business interests.
The Forbes report also calculated that Lefty had earned $750 million throughout the course of his career thanks to sponsors with big-name companies like Callaway, Rolex, Heineken, and the accounting giant KPMG.
Mickelson also owns shares with Mizzen and Main and ranked 77th on the Forbes highest-paid celebrities list. He was the second golfer on the list, with Tiger again taking the number one golfing spot with estimated annual earnings of $62.3 million.
Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest golfer ever to play the game, and most experts agree that both Jack and Tiger’s feats will never be surpassed.
Nicklaus, who also goes by the nickname The Golden Bear, was raised in Ohio and was born in 1940. Nicklaus attended Ohio State and was soon garnering the golfing world’s attention by claiming the U.S. Amateur Title twice while a student.
When it comes to golfing records, Nicklaus sits atop pretty much every list, including the Major championships list with 18; Tiger is second on 15. The Golden Bear has also won the Masters at Augusta National an incredible six times, the most by any player in history. Separate to that, Jack has five PGA Championships, three U.S. Opens, and three British Opens.
Off the course, however, Jack Nicklaus has accumulated over $1 billion in net worth thanks to his unrelenting work ethic and acuity as an astute businessman. Nicklaus is quoted as saying, “the vast majority of people work to retire, then they play golf; I’ve done it the other way around.”
Jack Nicklaus, much like Greg Norman, has branched out to numerous business ventures and is currently involved in selling products like wine and even lemonade. Nicklaus is also a prolific golf course designer and developer and is viewed as one of the best designers in history. In 2007, Howard Millstein, an investor worth billions, acquired 49% of the Nicklaus company and subsequently played a pivotal role in improving its branding globally.
Nicklaus has accumulated just over $1 billion during his career, and in a recent Forbes report, The Golden Bear’s net worth is estimated at $300 million. Jack is known for his modest lifestyle and has only ever worn one watch, presented to him by Rolex in 1967.
Arnold Palmer passed away on the 26th of September 2016, but his legacy is not only still with us, but continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Palmer was 87 years of age and died from heart complications. Arnold is a Hall of Fame member and captured 95 carer wins worldwide, with 62 of those on the U.S. Tour.
A little-known fact, Arnold Palmer was a trailblazer off the course and, together with Mark McCormack from IMG, established the Golf Channel. Separate from that, Palmer has designed courses in just about every golfing country on earth with well over 300 designs to his credit.
Palmer played in an era when prizemoney was limited and only made $3.6 million during his illustrious career. This meager figure should give you some idea of just how much money he made off the course and is a testament to his business acumen and work ethic. In 2017 Palmer was worth an estimated $875 million, only third behind Tiger Woods and Micheal Jordan. If inflation is taken into consideration, the figure is much closer to $1.5 billion.
Even after his death, Arnold Palmer continues to rake in the big bucks earning more than $40 million annually. Amazingly this figure would still place him in the top 15 of active highest-paid athletes.
Arnold’s big earner, though, is his Arnold Palmer clothing line which has over 400 stores based in Asia alone. With licensing agreements in place to branch into new markets in South East Asia, it’s expected that the business will only see continued growth.
Palmer is also known for his world-famous beverage, “The Arnold Palmer,” a tea and lemonade mix. The line of drinks was launched back in 2001 with 500 million cans produced in the last year alone. A survey showed that 70% of its customers associated Arnie’s name with the beverage as opposed to his sterling golf career.
The brewery MillerCoors also has plans to launch a “half and half” version of the famous iced tea drink. Plans are also in the pipeline for the Palmer brand to branch into the food industry by manufacturing salted snacks to accompany the drink.
Arnold was and still is a prolific giver to charity, and it’s estimated he donated millions and millions during his career to causes such as cancer. Palmer has a hospital named after him, The Arnold Palmer Medical Centre, which is located in Orland, Florida. Also, one of the biggest tournaments in golf, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is played annually at the Bay Hill Country Club, also situated in Orlando.
Tiger Woods tops the list of the highest-paid golfers in history, with on-course earnings topping $120 million, followed by Phil Mickelson, who is a close second at $94 million.
In recent years injury and personal issues have hampered Tiger’s ability to earn big money on the course, but despite that, his estimated net worth is $2.1 billion. Tiger is tied with James Patterson, an author, and sits ahead of the hip-hop mogul PDiddy. Star Wars George Lucas tops the celebrity list with a measly $5.4 billion.
Since turning pro in 1996, Tiger has accumulated $1.6 billion, but $2.1 billion is a much more realistic number when adjusted for inflation. More than 90% of his money has come from sponsorship deals, endorsements, and tournament appearance fees when the figures are broken down.
At his peak, Tiger Woods topped the list of the highest-paid golfer for 11 consecutive years. It was during this period he dominated the sport like no other golfer before him and racked up 14 Major Championships along the way.
Tiger is backed by several big-name brands like Nike, Bridgestone, TaylorMade, and the Monster Energy drink company. Recently Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, announced an exciting new deal with GolfTV, owned by the Discovery Channel. Woods will be hosting a weekly program that will include a glimpse into his mental and physical practices and in-depth instructional videos.
After a number of early mishaps, Tiger has also slowly started to dip his feet back into course design and is currently designing courses for a multi-national conglomerate. Woods also owns a yacht, aptly named “Privacy .”The yacht is believed to have set woods back $20 million. Tiger also owns a 12-acre property estimated to be valued at $40 million.