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Golf is bathed in gold: from Tiger Woods to the Saudi league | Sports

Golf counts dollar for dollar. The mountain of gold that the Saudi league has put on the table has shaken the very foundations of the sport. The discussion has morphed from whether the game has become a punching contest, Scottie Scheffler’s breakthrough as world number one or Jon Rahm’s short game to how much golfers earn and how much more they will earn. To the Saudi offer of 255 million dollars in prize money for eight tournaments between June and October, the American circuit, PGA Tour, responded on Wednesday night with the only possible counteroffer: taking out the checkbook. To prevent further flight of stars to the competition (Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have already switched sides), PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan fattened the bag that eight tournaments will distribute in 2023. The Arnold Palmer, for example, will go from 12 to 20 million; the Players, from 20 to 25. In addition, the calendar will be reformulated to reward the best with more juicy final phases and three new appointments will be born so that the elite becomes richer.

The shock wave of the Saudi league, LIV Golf, will cause golf to become a much more lucrative sport than it already is. It’s the market law. And the players have taken advantage of the appearance of a giant that promises to fill their pockets even more to ask for an increase in pay under the threat of a sit-in. The move will be profitable for some athletes who from the advent of Tiger Woods 25 years ago they enjoy a very well paid discipline. Data abounds in this direction. The American Scheffler has already won this season, before the end of June, 12.8 million dollars only in prize money and without counting advertising income, salary for four victories (including the Masters of Augusta) and a handful of positions of honor. The figure exceeds what any golfer has pocketed in a full season in all of history. Jordan Spieth entered 12 million in the 2015 academic year, second step in a list in which Tiger appears in four of the first seven positions. “I never dreamed of playing golf for so much money. I don’t know how much I’ve won this year, but it’s definitely too much to hit a little white ball,” confesses the 26-year-old world number one himself.

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Another surprising fact: Will Zalatoris, a 25-year-old American, has become the golfer who earns the most money in a season (and with the calendar still in June) without having achieved a single victory: 6.4 million dollars for three seconds positions, two fifths, two sixths… The comparison with tennis, a sport with a similar structure and organization, results in this perception that golf is bathed in gold. Compared to those 6.4 million Zalatoris without having bitten a trophy, Rafa Nadal, the most successful tennis player of the course, has entered this campaign 5.7 million in prizes (not counting fixed amounts), for four victories with two big ones included. Also in the Grand Slam some differences begin to be marked. The Balearic entered 2.8 million dollars for his triumph in Australia and 2.3 for his new conquest at Roland Garros. England’s Matt Fitzpatrick took Sheffield a check of 3.15 million for his success at the US Open, the largest gordo in the history of majors the wave.

The Saudi courtship has led to the American circuit and the greats scratching their pockets. The US Open raised to those 3.15 million a checkbook that the previous year signed for the winner, Jon Rahm, at 2.2 (and that was already double what Rory McIlroy received in 2011). The PGA has also searched in the piggy bank to avoid the temptation of its great references. Figures like Rahm, McIlroy and Justin Thomas have sworn eternal love al tour American, although it is obvious that this loyalty will not come for free to the mother house. Commissioner Monahan has used the savings and pressure on sponsors to keep the pulse, although he knows that in this auction that now seems to be golf, it has the losing side against a rival with unlimited spending and investing in non-refundable funds. “If this is a war and the only weapon is dollars, the PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a monarchy that spends billions trying to buy golf,” he explained on Wednesday, when he announced the candy to keep the troops happy.

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Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods, in the past Masters.Gregory Shamus (AFP)

Monahan currently retains the top ten of the world ranking. But the Saudi league is getting closer to those positions. Increased prize money and new tournaments give the PGA a break, bolstered by speeches like Rahm’s at the US Open. “I could retire right now with what I’ve earned and live a very happy life and never play golf again. but I play for legacy and history, not for money”, said the Basque, who in six years as a professional has earned 34 million dollars. McIlroy added: “I don’t understand the decision of players who are a similar age to me [33 años], because I believe that my best days are yet to come, and I believe that it is the same for others as well. It gives me the feeling that they are taking the easy way out.” The Northern Irishman, winner of four majors, collects 64 million in the current account. Among the Rebels, Phil Mickelson won 95; Dustin Johnson, 74; Sergio Garcia, 54.

The origin of boom dates back to 1997. Tiger Woods revolutionized golf in such a way at that Masters in Augusta that he not only changed the game and the preparation of the athletes, but also took it to a dimension far above the one it had in terms of money: audiences grew as much as the value of television rights, sponsors entered into a spiral of who paid more to be the image of the Tiger and the tournaments multiplied their endowment. In 1991, before the Woods era, the average earnings on the American circuit were $146,000 per course and player, counting from position 1 to 250; in 2021, the average was 1.48 million. He had multiplied by 10. “Tiger is the reason why my children, and my children’s children, have their lives solved financially,” Rahm assumes. Today, with the best years of Woods already in the newspaper library, the new revolution has arrived from Arabia.

Hit also in the women’s circuit

Dollars don’t just grow on the American men’s circuit. This Thursday the PGA Championship on the American women’s circuit, LPGA, has begun and the prize pool has doubled to nine million dollars. The winner will enter 1.35 million on Sunday, double what Nelly Korda received when she won the tournament in 2021.

The increase is uniform in the large ones. In January, the USGA announced that the US Women’s Open had gone from distributing 5.5 million to 10. The Chevron Championship, the first major of the year, also increased its prize pool, from 3 to 5 million, and the Evian Championship, which will be played in July, from 4.5 to 6.5. In total, the LPGA golfers will play this 2022 for 97.1 million dollars, an all-time record. The best placed Spaniard in the world ranking is Carlota Ciganda, in 51st place.

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