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A duffer's afternoon on the links is one thing; the professional's life on the Tour is quite another. While pros must travel a long and tough road to qualify for the PGA circuit, the rewards for winning golfers can be generous. For the top echelon, an income in the millions is within reach, in addition to endorsement deals and appearance fees. After expenses, a six-figure income is not uncommon for the top 100 or so pro golfers in the country.
Professional Tour Earnings
Your earnings as a pro golfer depend on which tours you qualify for, how many tournaments you play, and your own performance. Players who qualify for a Professional Golfers' Association card may join any PGA-sanctioned event and compete throughout the year. In 2011, according to Golfsmith, 261 pro players had PGA tournament earnings, with Luke Donald earning the high number at $6,683,214 and Jose Maria Olazabal bringing up the rear at $6,330. The median PGA earnings in that year was $628,079. In 2012, the 45 PGA events offered a total of $279 million in prize money, averaging out to $2,232,000 for each of the 125 qualified players.
Developmental tours give aspiring pros a chance to compete and earn money while preparing to qualify for the "big leagues" of golf. In 2011, there were 305 money-winners on the Nationwide Tour, with the take ranging from $414,273 (J.J. Killeen) down to $1,265 (Joe Ida). Median earnings were $16,904. Other mini-tours include the National Golf Association tour and the eGolf Professional Tour. Pros at all levels have expenses to deal with as well, including travel, meals, equipment, lodging and various services.
Endorsements can bring in the bucks for widely recognized players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Woods earned $3.3 million by playing golf and $60 million by endorsing products in 2011, and the numbers were comparable for Mickelson. Endorsements are the gift that keeps on giving; even recognized retired players like Arnold Palmer can rake it in with print and broadcast advertising and various appearance fees.
Professional players don't earn salaries; their earnings come solely from endorsements and tournament prize money, although they may also develop sponsors who assist them with expenses (sometimes for a partial return of the investment). Professional "club" players earn money from local tournaments, the salaries paid by golf courses that hire them, and lesson fees paid by students. According to a survey by PGA of America, the median earnings for a club pro in 2010 were $68,600, with a high of $140,000.