Highest-Paid Golfers 2021: Sponsors Drive Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy

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The U.S. Open tees off Thursday at San Diego’s Torrey Pines with $12.5 million in prize money on the line, including $2.25 million for the winner, the biggest purse among golf’s four major championships.

Golf prize money has exploded since Tiger Woods burst on the scene in 1996. The PGA Tour will dole out more than $400 million this year, quadruple the tally from a quarter-century ago. But for the superstars of the sport, the biggest paydays still come off the course.

Woods is the highest-paid golfer over the last 12 months with $62.2 million. Back surgery and a devastating February car accident limited Woods to only seven events, and his prize money was a mere $191,000. Yet Woods continues to be a master pitchman as brands look to align themselves with the 15-time major winner. He counts more than a dozen brands in his endorsement portfolio, led by Nike, TaylorMade, Hero MotoCorp and Bridgestone and he’s earned more than $1.5 billion off the course since turning pro, versus $121 million in PGA Tour prize money.

Woods signed a multi-year pact in early 2021 with Take-Two Interactive Software’s 2K franchise for its golf videogame. He was previously the face of Electronic Arts’ PGA Tour game franchise from 1998 to 2013. He also extended his agreement with Monster Energy at the end of last year.

Golf offers a wildly attractive demographic for sponsors—the median household income for the sport’s TV viewers is roughly $75,000 and tops football, baseball and basketball, according to Nielsen. Those fans buy equipment, apparel, watches, financial services and cars with that disposable income. Corporate hospitality is another critical component of the golf sponsorship space.

“We find a lot of sponsors want to get involved with golf because they have the ability to tap into these C-suite level of executives that they want to do business with,” said Octagon’s Ross Chouler, who is the agent for Xander Schauffele, No. 6 in the Official World Golf Rankings and one of the favorites this week.

Golf’s top 10 earners made an estimated $300 million over the last 12 months, and only 29% was from prize money. But the PGA Tour wants to enrich these stars even more through its recently launched Player Impact Program, a $40 million bonus pool for the players who generate the most interest in the sport.

“This is a recognition that there is value that the top players in the game are bringing beyond their singular performance that week,” Phil de Picciotto, founder and president of Octagon, said. “But they have to perform over the course of their careers in order to get the stature that causes other people to follow them as personalities.”

Woods scored the highest on the Tour’s algorithm during 2019, followed by Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Adam Scott round out the top 10. The payouts for the top performer in 2021 will be $8 million, with $6 million for the runner-up and the next eight due $3 million or $3.5 million. Fowler, Rose and Scott were the only ones from above not among the top 10 by total earnings during the past 12 months.

Sportico’s earnings estimates include prize money, endorsements, appearance fees, licensing and golf course design work in the 12 months ending May 31 based on conversations with golf industry insiders. Below are the top 10.

1. Tiger Woods: $62.2 million

Prize money: $191,000; Off-course: $62 million

Woods is not playing as he recovers from injuries sustained from his car accident, but he will be a story all weekend as the winner of the last Open at Torrey Pines, where he defeated Rocco Mediate in 2008 in sudden death after an 18-hole playoff. Woods revealed after the event he played with a stress fracture in his tibia. It was his last major win until the 2019 Masters.

2. Phil Mickelson: $46.1 million

Prize money: $4.1 million; Off-course: $42 million

“Lefty” pulled off a run for the ages last month to win the PGA Championship and become the oldest major champion in golf history. The win was worth $2.16 million, his richest PGA Tour purse, but a fraction of the $9 million he won for an exhibition versus Woods in 2018.

3. Dustin Johnson: $40.8 million

Prize money: $24.8 million; Off-course: $16 million

Leading the Official World Golf Rankings and winning the Masters triggered lucrative sponsor bonuses for the two-time major winner, who also chased a big appearance fee in Saudi Arabia in February. Johnson scored the biggest payday of his career in September, $15 million for winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup.

4. Rory McIlroy: $32.8 million

Prize money: $4.8 million; Off-course: $28 million

McIlroy is a principal of venture capital firm, Symphony Ventures, based in Dublin. The firm’s investments include insurance, tech and healthcare, and it recently invested in virtual healthcare startup LetsGetChecked. His career prize money of $56.5 million ranks sixth all-time.

5. Jordan Spieth: $29.6 million

Prize money: $4.6 million; Off-course: $25 million

Spieth rebounded this year with his first victory since 2017, a win at the Valero Texas Open. His endorsement game remains strong through partnerships with Under Armour, AT&T, Titleist, Brightspot, NetJets, Rolex, Club Champion and Full Swing.

6. Justin Thomas: $20.3 million

Prize money: $13.3 million; Off-course: $7 million

The Kentucky native ranks second in the world currently, and his 14 PGA Tour wins are the most for any player under the age of 30. His biggest sponsorships are with Titleist, FootJoy, Citi, Woodford Reserve and NetJets.

7. Bryson DeChambeau: $17.9 million

Prize money: $8.9 million; Off-course: $9 million

DeChambeau has been the talk of the Tour the past year for his play, analytical approach, hulking physique and feud with Brooks Koepka, who landed just outside the top 10 earners. The defending U.S. Open champion has more than a dozen endorsement partners, including Cobra, Bridgestone, Rocket Mortgage and DraftKings.

8. Xander Schauffele: $17.3 million

Prize money: $10.3 million; Off-course: $7 million

The FedEx Cup has been good to the San Diego native. He pocketed $5 million in 2019 for finishing second and another $4.5 million last year when he tied for second. Schauffele’s main sponsors are Callaway, Adidas, Aon and Hyland. Software firm Hyland is running a promotion where the win gets a swing tutorial from Schauffele and his coach-father, Stefan.

9. Jon Rahm: $16.9 million

Prize money: $10.9 million; Off-course: $6 million

Rahm is the favorite to win the U.S. Open, with DraftKings giving him 10-1 odds (DeChambeau, Johnson and Schauffele are next at 15-1). The Spaniard switched his clubs from TaylorMade to Callaway in 2021 under a multi-year deal.

10. Hideki Matsuyama: $15.4 million

Prize money: $5.4 million; Off-course: $10 million

Matsuyama’s Masters win in April made him the first Japanese player to ever win a men’s golf major. Sponsorship opportunities in his golf-crazed country could be worth as much as $600 million for the historic win.

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