ATLANTA — The last place finisher at this year’s Tour Championship will earn more for four days of work than the average American will earn in eight years. The winner will take home more than the average American could earn in several lifetimes.
The money in golf has now reached staggering, incomprehensible levels. It’s like trying to figure out the size of a blooming firework in the sky; you know it’s big, but you can’t even imagine it how big.
This weekend, as the FedEx Cup contenders come into focus, television viewers will hear about the vast riches that await the winner — $18 million — as well as the staggering cost to finish even a stroke or two back. For Jon Rahm, who is very much in the mix for the huge sum, the emphasis on money is exactly the wrong approach, both for golf as a sport and for the mindset of players trying to achieve greatness.
“That’s one of my pet peeves when they make this tournament about money,” Rahm said Friday, “because I think it takes away from that.”
“They” in this case could be the media, or it could be the PGA Tour itself, which has continued to throw zeroes at the end of its wallets to retain the attention of already wealthy players. The Tour is in the awkward position of maintaining the day-to-day operations of professional golf without having any direct connection to the sport’s four crown jewels. Winning a major is a career achievement; winning the FedEx Cup playoffs doesn’t carry quite the same cachet.
Rahm implied as much when discussing the value of wins versus paychecks. “When you win a green jacket, I can tell you right now that every major champion this year might not remember how much money they made,” he said. “And that’s the beauty of this game, and I think that’s the way it should be.”
“Everybody does it for the money. But I really don’t care,” said Collin Morikawa. “I want to play these tournaments because I want to play against the best guys in the world. I want to win. And whether you get a dollar out of it or $10 million out of it, a win is a win … People don’t understand how good that feels. This is what you dream of. That’s what you want to do. That’s what you want to do. That’s why you practice.”
The arrival of LIV Golf and its life-changing paychecks further tipped the balance of professional golf away from “win for its own sake” and toward “show me the money.” LIV’s promise of no-cut tournaments with $4 million in prize money awaiting the winner lured away plenty of players. Some expressed their decision to leave the PGA Tour as a protest against the Tour’s operations; others were more direct.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” LIV player Harold Varner III told the Washington Post earlier this year. “It’s about the damn money.”
No tournament on the PGA Tour — indeed, in all of golf — is more about the damn money than the Tour Championship. After the first prize of $18 million, the purse drops significantly. Finishing second in the FedEx Cup earns a $6.5 million paycheck; in third place, $5 million. Those are both staggering sums, but given how tight the field is heading into the weekend, we could be looking at a situation where a single missed putt could be worth more than $10 million.
However, Rahm insists the what-ifs don’t enter his mind: “We don’t think if we miss a putt, how much it’s going to cost us financially. No chance. No way. You try to finish as high as possible. You’re trying to win a tournament.”
Both Rahm and Morikawa admitted that they have had the luxury of not having to worry about money at all. Rahm attracted interest from sponsors before winning his first pro tournament, and Morikawa was winning so quickly in his career that he skipped right past the kind of financial concerns that bedevil players further down the rankings … as well as, you know, most of the viewing audience.
Still, for Rahm, there is a cost to the obsession with money. “If you want to be a great player,” he said, “you have to go after the win instead of thinking about your bank account.”