Inflation Adjusted Golf Earnings: The Rapid Growth of European PGA Golf Tour Purses from the 1970s

Updated: 37 Golf

Explore the phenomenal rise in European PGA Tour earnings since the 1970s. Our analysis includes actual numbers along with an intriguing look at the figures adjusted for inflation.

Inflation Adjusted Golf Earnings: The Rapid Growth of European PGA Golf Tour Purses from the 1970s
In this article: The Data
James Banting Tipster Competition Assistant

James has worked for the jockey club and has 20 years sports betting experience he utilises his skills in our tipster competitions and writes sports betting content.

Step onto the green with us as we dive into the wallet-expanding world of European PGA Tour earnings. Since the 1970s, golf earnings have skyrocketed – a change that becomes even more astonishing when inflation is considered. This enlightening article offers a hole-in-one overview of the merit order leaders' earnings growth and an intriguing comparison based on varying inflation rates.

💰⛳ Are you a golf fan? Discover the staggering growth in European PGA Tour earnings since the 1970s. Cash in on this insightful read now!

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Golf Earnings Over The Years

The landscape within the world of golf has undoubtedly changed over the past couple of years and like in many other sports, the change has been fuelled by a Saudi-led revolution – a revolution that comes courtesy of the LIV Tour

A tour that promises golfers all the riches in the world and although that deal is seen as one that is too difficult to turn down, it does come with its own cost. Yes, you can have an abundance of money for playing but you will not receive ranking points in the process.

With the LIV Tour currently acting as a golfing pariah, those who have signed up for the new circus have certainly courted controversy but as they sometimes say, controversy creates cash and the likes of Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau are making plenty of it at present.

While the creation of the LIV Tour does also highlight the earnings that are being collected on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The clamour to earn more has always been there but that clamour has definitely been accelerated over the past few years.

Which gives us good reason to look back at the past and see how the earnings potential of the world’s best golfers has evolved since the 1970’s. An increase in prize money is to be expected, the question is by how much? 

First we will look at the European Tour’s Order of Merit and those who have topped the annual money list since 1977. 

Year Player Earnings £ % Growth
1977 Seve Ballesteros £40,398 n/a
1978 Seve Ballesteros £41,044 1.60%
1979 Sandy Lyle £42,832 4.36%
1980 Sandy Lyle £37,711 -11.96%
1981 Bernhard Langer £70,501 86.95%
1982 Greg Norman £57,773 -18.05%
1983 Nick Faldo £103,892 79.83%
1984 Bernhard Langer £121,229 16.69%
1985 Sandy Lyle £141,421 16.66%
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From the £40,398 that Seve Ballesteros earned as the European Tour Order of Merit winner in 1977 to Rory McIlroy’s £4,785,000 45 years later – a multiple of more than 100 from the legendary Spaniard to the Northern Irish star of the same status.

Golf’s Prize Money Explosion: Ballesteros to McIlroy

From Seve Ballesteros' historic £40k earnings in 1977 🏌️‍♂️ to Rory McIlroy's spectacular £4.7M in 2022 ⛳, golfers’ prize money has soared by 11,744%! 🚀 The legacy of champions grows alongside their prize funds.

In percentage terms it is an increase of 11744%, a gargantuan rise from the start of the data collection to the end and although not to be unexpected, it does highlight the change in player earning power.

This can also be highlighted by the fact that year-on-year increases were recorded in 30 of the 45 years in the data sample. It is not a direct correlation between guaranteed annual increases, but the pattern does not divert too far from it either.

As always, there are some caveats when it comes to annual increases in percentage terms and the change from 2020 to 2021 is the best indicator of this. With Lee Westwood taking home just over £2m in 2020, this would jump to £5.9m a year later.

An increase of 195.65% in the space of 12 months and the underlying reason for this was a lack of golfing activity during 2020 because of Covid 19. Thankfully, the pitching wedges and putters were a lot more on show the following year.

Another way to look at the earnings trend is to by ranking the years in terms of highest to lowest – in theory, the most recent years should trickle back down towards 1977: 

Year Player Earnings £ Earnings Rank
2014 Rory McIlroy £6,220,068 1
2021 Colin Morikawa £5,916,000 2
2019 Jon Rahm £5,394,000 3
2018 Francesco Molinari £5,256,123 4
2012 Rory McIlroy £4,801,633 5
2022 Rory McIlroy £4,785,000 6
2017 Tommy Fleetwood £4,686,651 7
2011 Luke Donald £4,631,358 8
2016 Henrik Stenson £4,601,870 9
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If we look from the bottom up, the pattern is as you would expect it. The further back you go, the less money you would have earned from the PGA Tour. Even if you took Colin Montgomerie’s 1999 earnings of £1,58m and looked down the list, there is little in the way of annual variation.

It is not a perfect cascading set of years, but not too far removed either. However, the turn of the millennium offers a far greater amount of chop and change – something that is greater reflected at the top of the standings.

Gary Yee//shutterstock

If the theory of most recent = highest earnings was true, Rory McIlroy’s 2022 efforts would have reigned supreme. In this instance, it is actually 2014 which was the most profitable year for an Order of Merit winner.

In that year, McIlroy would win £6.22m, eight years later that figure would be only £4.78m by comparison. Then again, one cannot overlook the £4.8m that was collected back in 2012 or the £4.1m in 2015.

Ultimately where McIlroy goes, the money usually follows and when you remove his 2014 earnings and the 2020 tally from Lee Westwood that was mentioned earlier, the three most recent years then sit at the top of the year-on-year earnings list.

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2021, 2019 and 2018 are the years in question and that is the order that they rank in when it comes to which Order of Merit winner won the most money in that respective year. Colin Morikawa’s £5.9m sits above John Rahm’s £5.3m of two years prior and that is above Francesco Molinari in 2018.

The Italian earned £5.2m five years ago and he is one of four players to earn at least £5m in a single year of European Tour golf. An impressive feat but is it any less when you allow for inflation in each of the years since 1977.

Year Player Inflation Earnings £
2014 Rory McIlroy £9,172,959
2012 Rory McIlroy £7,391,577
2011 Luke Donald £7,359,768
2004 Ernie Els £7,101,875
2021 Colin Morikawa £7,044,554
2019 Jon Rahm £6,990,171
2018 Francesco Molinari £6,961,656
2016 Henrik Stenson £6,521,640
2010 Martin Kaymer £6,463,121
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If we rank the Order of Merit winners by inflation adjusted earnings, Rory McIlroy’s success of 2014 would be worth a weighty £9.1m and his success of 2012 would surge up to second in the list. Suddenly £4.8m in 2012 is worth £7.3m today. 

While Luke Donald is now mixing it up in third place once you take inflation into account. The English golfer won £4.6m that year, it is also worth £7.3m today. If you were to take this measure as the comparative standard, five players would have earned over £7m in their respective year.

Luke Donald

Joining that club are South African Ernie Els whose 2004 winnings of £3.5m have now doubled and Colin Morikawa’s £5.9m of 2021 which has now been boosted up to £7.0m as a consequence of inflation being added to the mix.

The question now is how much inflation distorts the earnings list and if we can match this by looking at two separate ranks. The rank when listing the annual earnings from top to bottom and the same when the values are amended for inflation.

The big loser would be the 2022 edition of Rory McIlroy, sixth when it comes to actual earnings but 17th when it comes to inflation. However, there is a rather simple caveat attached to this and it comes with the measure of time.

With the 2022 earnings being the most recent, it will have had less time to be affected by inflation. If you were to repeat the same task in 2023 instead, the findings would surely be far more different when it comes to a potential increase.

If we look at the bottom of the standings, there is very little in the way of disruption when it comes to the comparison of the two rankings. With that said, Greg Norman’s £57k that was won in 1982, is beaten the Order of Merit winners from the late 1970’s. 

Teeing Up Fortune: Golf's Prize Money Evolution Revealed

📈🏌️‍♂️ From Greg Norman's £57k in '82 to Nick Faldo's groundbreaking six-figure earnings just a year later, witness how golf's prize money has skyrocketed! Colin Montgomerie takes it further, with a whopping seven figures.

Just a year later than Norman’s earnings in 1982, Nick Faldo would go on to earn almost double and in doing so, become the first man to pick up six figures in the Order of Merit. Fast forward 16 years and Colin Montgomerie would be the first man to pick up seven. 

While Faldo’s performance in 1983 seems to highlight a real step change when it comes to the growth of the European Tour. From 1983 to 1988, there were year on year increases for the Order of Merit winners.

Year Player Earnings £ % Growth
1983 Nick Faldo £103,892 79.83%
1984 Bernhard Langer £121,229 16.69%
1985 Sandy Lyle £141,421 16.66%
1986 Seve Ballesteros £210,722 49.00%
1987 Ian Woosnam £220,734 4.75%
1988 Seve Ballesteros £392,857 77.98%
1989 Ronan Rafferty £348,271 -11.35%
1990 Ian Woosnam £499,524 43.43%
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Faldo in 1983 earning £103k, five years later that figure would be increased by nearly 300% by Seve Ballesteros. Fast forward to 1990 and Ian Woosnam had managed to add another £107k to his bank account.

In the space of just seven years, the Order of Merit winner had accelerated their earnings from £100k to £500k. From Ian Woosnam to Colin Montgomerie nine years later, that figure had subsequently trebled. 

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£1.5m in 1999, £4.5m in 2011 when Luke Donald trousered that amount across the year. The growth of the tour had not peaked at that point but it was not far away either – it would take Rory McIlroy three more years to earn the highest Order of Merit tally of all time.

However, there does come a point where the bubble almost bursts and this is due to the amount of golf that players are willing to play each year. The increases seen from one decade to the next can be explained by more dates being added to the calendar, there is only a finite number of new dates.

Not only is there less room to squeeze in additional tour dates across Europe, but there is also the lure of PGA Tour in the United States, if you want to play on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, then spare time is going to be at even more of a premium.

LIV Tour's Attractive Offer: A Game-changer in Golf

⛳️🤑 The LIV Tour has golfers eyeing a lucrative new horizon: more cash, fewer games. Is this the formula that's reshaping the golfing world and putting traditional tours at risk? 💰🏌️‍♂️

Which is why the LIV Tour has gained so much traction in such a short amount of time. If you were to offer any golfer the equation of more money for less dates, then it becomes a very easy sporting code to crack.

With £6m in earnings seemingly the holy grail when it comes to the European Order of Merit, one wonders if the golden days have now lost their lustre and with so much golf and not enough time to fit it all in, could this be the tour that soon becomes one tour too many?

Source and Contributor Information

This article started as an idea to find the top earners in Golf in Europe and how that has grown over the years, so we set Dan Tracey, our data scientist, on the task of collecting and crunching. He also added his commentary throughout, with our Golf Specialist Editor James Banting fact-checking and editing before publication.

James Banting

Golf Betting Specialist

James is a knowledgeable sports betting specialist with over 20 years of experience in the sports betting and horse racing industry. Today James focuses on producing informative betting content on the major sporting events throughout the year in Horse Racing and Tennis, as well as contributing to our Cricket and Golf Content.

👨‍🏫 Specialist Subjects🔬📚

🏇 James is a huge Horse racing fan and aficionado, attending scores of meetings each year around his work with OLBG. With experience working in the Jockey Club, he has a unique insight into the inner workings of the industry.

🎾 From a betting perspective, James also has an eye on Tennis throughout the season and produces much of our Tennis content including collecting statistics and information for our Tennis events previews

🏏 ⛳ James also produces preview content for our cricket sections and is always looking for value on the fairway in our Golf Majors previews too.

- James Banting, Tipster competition assistant

Dan Tracey

The Numbers Man

Dan Tracey is a multi-talented writer, data analyst and podcaster whose six-year career in the sports data sphere has seen incredible successes. From helping UEFA create their annual technical reports to writing articles for Sports Betting Websites including sites like TheLinesUS and Goal - there's no shortage of areas where his expertise shines through! In addition, he can be heard on podcasts lending an insightful voice as well as providing weekly betting angles - all culminating with him teaming up OLBG.com in the present day. Simply put: wherever you find angled data being crunched? You'll also likely find Dan not far behind!

👨‍🏫 Specialist Subjects🔬📚

Dan's specialist area is data; and lots of it! Wherever we need numbers to create our unique deep dive articles, Dan is our go-to. Dan is also a Tottenham Fan and a football commentator for Newcastle Blue Star

- Dan Tracey, Data scientist and football editor

SOURCES: 

Inflation calculator tool: https://www.hl.co.uk/tools/calculators/inflation-calculator

Order of Merit Winners: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Vardon_Trophy

Data correct as of October 27th 2023

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