A lot has changed since Jack Nicklaus last teed it up on the PGA Tour. Equipment is more advanced, courses are longer, and each and every event has wall-to-wall TV coverage. But the biggest difference from Nicklaus’ time on Tour to present day is the size of the purses.
There might be no starker a reminder of this fact than when you consider where Nicklaus stands on the Tour’s all-time money list — No. 293. The man who owns 73 Tour wins and 18 major championships lags behind the likes of Ricky Barnes and Brandt Jobe — who have zero Tour wins between them — in career earnings on the course. Those inflated earnings can be traced back to one man — Tiger Woods.
Since Woods stepped onto the scene in the mid-90s, the game changed for good. Fitness became more important as golfers became athletes and the game became “cool.” But the most indelible impact was the increase in money in the game that followed.
But the increase in money on Tour might have made some players in the current age complacent. At least, that’s how Nicklaus views it. With money easier to come by on Tour in this day and age, not everyone is willing to put in the effort to be the best.
“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,” Nicklaus said ahead of the Champions Tour’s Ally Challenge earlier this week. “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.”
For a player with a legendary competitive streak like Nicklaus, this stance isn’t surprising. The largest purse the Golden Bear ever won on Tour was his last victory — the 1986 Masters — where he took home $144,000. It wasn’t about money for Nicklaus. It was about prestige.
“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,” he said. “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, and that was my — I think a lot of money disincentivizes that a little bit.”