Jordan Spieth Pocketed Just Shy of $2,000 Per Stroke in 2015

December 17, 2015

Pitcher Zack Greinke’s new contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks will see him earn just under $10,000 per pitch next season.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers took home about $18,000 per snap with the Green Bay Packers last year.

In his MVP season, Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry was a relative bargain at just $8,203 per shot or $4,181 per minute played.

The money in golf, by comparison at least, is much harder to come by. In Jordan Spieth’s record-setting 2015 season — in which he earned $12,030,465 — he managed to take home just short of $2,000 per stroke ($1,979). Spieth bested Vijay Singh’s 2004 season for most total money won, but when you break it down on a per stroke basis, it’s clear Vijay grinded much more than Spieth to reach that total, as the Fijian pulled in only $1,433 per stroke over the course of his marathon 112 round campaign. Let’s take a look at where Spieth’s haul ranks compared to some past legends.

When you look at the top per stroke-earners in PGA Tour history, it’s obvious that money started pouring into golf just as Tiger Woods began his celebrated career. After adjusting for inflation, the top 200 money-per-stroke earners all played in the Tiger Era (1997 – present), meaning that all modern golfers are benefitting from the boost golf received from Woods. Greg Norman’s 1995 season, where he pulled in $644 per stroke (adjusted for inflation), stands as the best before Woods’ arrival — and it’s still less than a third of what Spieth pulled in this year.

It’s no surprise that Tiger dominates the top of this ranking. Not only was he the world’s best for over a decade, but he also played a select schedule of events that kept his total rounds in the 60s or 70s, far less than Spieth’s 88 or Vijay’s 112. His top money per stroke seasons came in 2006 ($3,315), 2007 ($3,037), and 2009 ($2,757).

Spieth’s 2015 ranks eighth best all-time, just behind Rory McIlroy’s 2012, the best haul by a golfer not named Tiger. In comparison, Jack Nicklaus best season (post-1970) came in 1972, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open en route to earning $365 per stroke (inflation adjusted). That stood as the top mark for sixteen years until Curtis Strange topped him in 1988.

The boom in prize money in the late 1990s and early 2000s is clear from the graph below. Total purses on Tour remained fairly flat from 1970 to 1985 as the gains from the Big Three Era, increased professionalization and television coverage was consolidated. Prize money doubled over the ensuing decade, however, and the Tour awarded a total of $100 million (inflation adjusted) for the first time in 1996. The boom that followed tripled Tour prize money by 2004 to just under $300 million (inflation adjusted).

Recent seasons saw a modest dip — likely a result of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, but 2015 saw a rally that returned total purses back across the $300,000,000 mark to nearly 2008 levels.

But what if the Nicklaus Era was as lucrative as the current one? How much would Jack have stood to earn if the 1970s were as awash in cash as the past decade? To examine this I created a Golf Money Index which compares the amount of prize money in each season to 2015. For example, in 1970 there was $36,585,148 available, which is 8.21 times less than in 2015. I simply multiplied each golfer’s per stroke earnings in a season to the corresponding Golf Money Index for that season. Tiger Woods’ best seasons still come out on top, led by 2000. But Jack’s aforementioned 1972 season now ranks fourth, and two other Nicklaus seasons rank in the top 10, joined by Johnny Miller’s eight-win effort in 1974.

If both Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus had played in the same era money-wise, Jack’s 1970-1979 stretch would have been worth just over $102 million, just short of Tiger’s 2000-2009 stretch where he would’ve pocketed $106 million.

Too bad that battle only exists on paper.