A professional golfer plays the game for a living, as opposed to a golf pro, who receives a salary from a club. A typical professional golfer is always on the move, traveling from tournament to tournament. The more well-known golfers travel by plane and stay in luxury hotels or rented homes, while the typical player on a minor tour drives to the next tournament and stays in a motel. The pressure to earn enough money to cover day-to-day travel and living expenses is a key difference between the life of a successful major tour golfer and the typical playing professional.
PGA Tour Finances
There are numerous men’s and women’s tours worldwide, but the PGA Tour is the top of golf’s food chain. In 2011, 89 golfers earned at least $1 million on tour, with 216 earning at least $100,000. At the same time, tour golfers also have large expenses. Caddies, for example, typically receive at least 5 percent of a player’s earnings. Even if they happen to live near a tour stop, players are on the road most of the season -- depending on how many tournaments they enter or qualify for -- and must pay all their travel costs. Tour player Jason Day and his wife Ellie, for example, literally live on the road during the season, driving a motor home from one tournament to the next.
PGA/LPGA Tour Eligibility
There are several ways a player may qualify for a single tournament, but long-term success on the PGA Tour requires a player to remain exempt from qualifying. Otherwise, a golfer may have to play on a lesser tour and try to work his way back to the PGA. Unless a player wins a major tournament, he typically must be among the top 125 on the official PGA Tour money list at the end of the season to retain his tour card for the following year. LPGA players must be among the top 90 plus ties on that tour's official money list each year to keep their tour card.
PGA Tour Camaraderie
PGA Tour player Brendon de Jonge says observers are frequently surprised at how well tour players get along with each other. He says tour players are “close-knit” and are willing to offer advice to fellow players, even though they’re all competitors. “If someone is struggling, other players will be willing to help,” he adds. ”And I don’t think you see a whole lot of that in other sports.”
Typical Pro Golfers’ Finances
Golfers on the minor tours also face the expense of traveling from one tournament to the next, with no guaranteed payoff. Golfers usually don’t earn any prize money if they don’t make the cut and, even if they are successful, earn relatively modest winners’ checks. Canadian Tour pro Mike Mezei says “one of the toughest things about playing professional golf is being able to stay financially viable long enough to make it.” Chris McVitty, who played the pro tour in Ireland, says, "You were playing for your living, so you were under pressure all the time.” Despite winning several tournaments, McVitty left the tour to become a club pro. PGA pro Jiro Nakazaki says for a typical playing pro, “Motel 6 is your home, your car is a suitcase with mobility and Ramen noodles become your daily means of survival.”
Putting in the Work
Golfers at all levels, but particularly younger golfers trying to climb the ladder to the higher tours, must put in many hours of practice to improve their skills. Nick Mason, while playing on the developmental Gateway Tour, said on many mornings, “I don’t want to get out of bed and go chip and putt. But that’s my only job and that’s what I’m supposed to do.” Mezei says daily practice is “just like I’m showing up for work, like anybody else.”