In August, the PGA Tour announced its series of 13 events — including The Players Championship — that will offer purse increases of nearly $100 million for the 2023 season, plus a doubling of the Player Impact Program to $100 million.
The Korn Ferry Tour had previously announced in 2021 that its purses will increase to $1 million for each regular-season event (up from $600,000 for most tournaments) and $1.5 million for the four-event Korn Ferry Finals.
In between is the PGA Tour Champions, whose average purse this season of $2.1 million is only $600,000 more than the Korn Ferry Finals. There will be modest gains next year to an average of $2.3 million but only nine of the 27 events will offer bumps and at this point, the Constellation Furyk & Friends, being played this week at the Timuquana Country Club, may not be one of them.
So while PGA Tour players will have a chance to compete for first-place checks of up to $4.5 million for winning The Players (which exceeds the total purse for every PGA Tour Champions event), and Korn Ferry Tour players can make $180,000 for winning a regular-season event (nearly double the amount from most regular-season events in 2019), why aren’t Champions Tour earnings increasing at a fast pace than the projected 10 percent for next season?
The answer reflects the reality of the economics: Champions Tour purses are more dependent on title sponsorship contracts than TV money, and it’s a tour financially supported by the PGA Tour anyway.
And with the PGA Tour tapping into its reserves and asking for more help from its title sponsors in response to the LIV Golf tour luring players away with mind-boggling, there’s little left in the kitty to throw to the Champions Tour.
Purse bumps depend on sponsors
“We’re in a different situation with the Tour,” said Steve Flesch, one of the members of the Champions Tour Policy Board. “We rely on tournament sponsors to generate our purses so we don’t have as big a piece of pie.”
Champions Tour president Miller Brady said it comes down to the contracts with each title sponsor. For example, the Furyk & Friends purse is $2 million for the balance of the five-year deal, unless Constellation agrees to a bump based on the event’s performance.
Judging from the success of the first two years, it might happen.
“When we sign a contract with a title sponsor, we have to see if the event will sustain itself,” Brady said. “There’s no question this tournament has done well.”
Tournament host Jim Furyk is optimistic.
“I think you’ll start to see purses go up,” he said. “Is it always going to be as fast as the players want it? Probably not. I really do believe we’re in a strong place right now, and I think you will see increases.”
The top purses on the Champions Tour are $4 million for the U.S. Senior Open and $3.5 million for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, which are not run by the Tour. The highest purse for a Champions Tour event is $3 million for the Senior Players.
The Players Championship purse reached $3 million in 1995.
Players seem content
Despite the numbers, guess who’s not complaining?
The players, who seem to be doing their best to not be greedy when they have a situation unique in sports: a second chance after their PGA Tour careers to make what they consider pretty decent money, in mostly no-cut events, with the option of riding in carts.
“I’m still playing for more money than my rookie year on Tour,” said Jerry Kelly, one of five players who have won three times this season on the Champions Tour and fourth on the money list with more than $1.9 million – on the verge of his third consecutive season with $2 million or more in annual earnings, a barrier he reached four times on the PGA Tour.
“I’m pretty happy with what I’ve gotten,” he continued. “Other guys coming out are maybe going to look at it and go ‘okay, this is low for what I’m used to,’ but as long as we don’t stay static, as long as it keeps trending up, that’s fine.”
Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is fifth on the money list with more than $1.8 million and on target to pass $2 million for the second season in a row said it would be nice if more money was available to players who were the backbone of the PGA Tour, but like Kelly, went out of his way not to appear disgruntled.
“I think they need to resource a little bit more [money],” said the 13-time Champions Tour winner. “Since I’ve been part of the Champions Tour the purses [are] not changing much and I think we make a little contribution to the golf in all those years. I think it would be good.”
Flesch said purses have been a topic in policy board meetings but not to a great extent because most have done so well on the PGA Tour.
“The PGA Tour has been great to us our whole career,” he said. “Yes, everybody would like the purses to go up but I don’t think guys are out here demanding.”
Career earnings sustain players
Nineteen players in this week’s Furyk & Friends field have made $20 million or more in career PGA Tour earnings, topped by the tournament host with $71.5 million (fourth on the all-time list), trailed closely by Vijay Sing ($71.2 million).
Ten in this week’s field have earned at least $10 million on the Champions Tour, led by Bernhard Langer with more than $33 million.
The Tour pension, based on cuts made also is lucrative. According to the last PGA Tour annual report that was made available in 2019, more than 600 professional golfers have $1 million or more in their pension plans and 114 had $3 million or more.
Brady said he understands if some Champions Tour players see the purses skyrocketing on the PGA Tour and wonder if there’s any loose change left for them.
“Of course, all of us want to grow our purses, players, the Tour, everyone,” Brady said. “But they have to grow organically through the title sponsors and local sponsorships. I don’t think money is an issue with the players but I get it if they see what’s happening on the regular Tour and they might as, ‘where’s our money?’ They would like a piece of it.”
But Furyk pointed out that the Champions Tour is unique among professional sports: its members can win tournaments and money long after the youngest social security age of 62.
Just look at Langer, who is 65, has won five times since turning 62 and is eighth on the current money list.
“We would like to see [purses] increase quicker, but as a player, I also have to realize I’m 52 years old,” he said. “I’m playing a sport for a living, I get to do what I love.”
Contact Garry Smits at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GSmitter.