By Zak Kozuchowski
GolfWRX Managing Editor
Tiger Woods recently became the first player in PGA Tour history to surpass the $100 million mark in career on-course earnings.
When asked how it felt to be golf’s first $100 million man at Wednesday’s press conference before the BMW Championship, Woods tried to downplay his earnings, saying that he was lucky to “come along at the right time.”
“We’ve had purse increases,” Woods said. “We’ve had a lot of things go our way. I’ve won some tournaments, yes, but as I said last week, Sam Snead won more tournaments than I did, and obviously he didn’t make the money that I did, just because it was a different era. I happened to come along at the right time when TV was booming and our commissioner did some fantastic deals with TV, and our purses just leapt by a lot. I think that all that said, I’m not opposed to it; put it that way.”
But it wasn’t solely luck or the Tour’s shrewd business deals that resulted in Woods playing in an era where golfers earned huge paychecks subsidized by corporate sponsorships and television deals. Woods was the main force behind golf’s big money era.
Sure, Jack Nicklaus won more majors than Tiger has thus far in his career, and Sam Snead won more tournaments in his career than Tiger has. But no player has been more important to golf’s global impact as Tiger Woods, who has not only been the most popular golfer in the world for most of his career, but also one of the most popular athletes in the world.
In golf, players drive for show and putt for dough. But Woods proved to players that they can drive and do tons of other things for dough, too. His pre-scandal endorsement contracts with General Motors, General Mills, American Express, Gillette, PepsiCo, Tag Heuer, Accenture and Upper Deck, along with his current endorsers: Nike, EA Sports, Rolex, Vantelin Kowa and Fuse Science mean that his on-course earnings are just a fraction of his total career earnings. Only Woods and his accountants know the real figures, but many suspect that Woods had earned over $1 billion off the course in his career.
Many people who follow sports like to say that golfers aren’t athletes, but Woods made his fortune partly off the premise that he was an athlete. His swing speed, physique and unrivaled dominance fascinated not just the golf world, but the entire world of sports. Woods is the modern day Arnold Palmer, bringing golf to the masses, only on a much larger scale and on a much larger stage.
Palmer was golf’s most marketable player prior to Woods for five reasons: he was good looking, he was from a humble background, he had tremendous talent, he liked taking risks and he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Palmer’s legacy is the reason he was still able to rake in $36 million of the course in endorsements in 2011, 58 years after his last major championship victory.
Woods shares all of Palmer’s traits, only he is more talented and more emotional. As a result of the scandal, he’s also become more human. Despite Woods’ off the course problems, expect him to be thought of in the same way that Palmer is now, even after his swing slows and his hair grays. Sure, we’ll always remember Woods’ crash. But we will recall more vividly the fields he demolished and the impossible shots he pulled off under pressure.
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