Any day now, Jack Nicklaus will drop out of the top 300 on the PGA Tour’s all-time career earnings list.
Think about that — the Golden Bear, arguably the game’s greatest player ever — will fall behind names like Ted Potter Jr. and Josh Teater.
Currently, Nicklaus stands at 299 on this lineup, one that’s topped by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and Dustin Johnson. Of course, the eras were wildly different, and money had yet to permeate professional sports the way it currently does, but it’s not entirely surprising that Nicklaus, who won $5,734,031 in a career that amassed 73 PGA Tour titles, might have an interesting perspective on the lifestyle of current players.
In advance of the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills G&CC in Grand Blanc, Michigan — which restarts the Champions Tour on Friday — Nicklaus was honest and open about how he feels big purses have changed the mentality of Tour players, many of whom play for a big paycheck at the bottom end of the top 10.
“Well, you want to talk about financially or — it’s the same number of
players, 144 a tournament, but when I was winning in the ’90s — well, let’s just put it this way: The biggest purse I ever won on the regular tour was the ’86 Masters, which was $144,000,” he said. “The biggest purse I won in a regular tournament on the Senior Tour was the last one I won, which was The Tradition in ’96. I never won a tournament after I was 56. I won skins games and little events and things like that, but I never won any more tournaments.
“The game financially has changed dramatically. When we played, we played golf to win tournaments to make a name so we could go make a living using our name that we made on the Tour. Today, the guys can make a living on the Tour and a lot of them can make a living on the Tour, and they don’t necessarily have to win to be able to make a living, which I think is sort of a drawback a little bit.”
Nicklaus, who is in Michigan to watch his son Gary play on a sponsor’s exemption, said the lucrative lifestyle the Tour affords can allow some players to ease up.
“I think a lot of guys, they look — they’re out there, they don’t win a tournament and they win $3 million or $4 million in a year. And a lot of them say, I don’t want to work as hard as Tiger Woods worked. They say, I know I can’t compete with them anyway, I’m quite happy where I am,” he said.
“I don’t think it should be that way, I think everybody should try to — everybody’s different, but I think they should try to be the best. That’s what I always tried to be. It didn’t make a difference what we were playing for when I played, I could care less about prize money. It was I wanted to win and I wanted to be the best, I think a lot of money disincentivizes that a little bit, whatever the right word is.”
Nicklaus did admit, however, that the riches that come with today’s Tour allow players a chance to spend time with their families that he was never given.
“… I think it’s great for a lot of these guys. They can not only play golf on the Tour, make a heck of a living, but they can also spend time at home and have a family,” Nicklaus said. “Thank goodness for my wife, Barbara, I’d have never known my kids. The guys today, they can get home.”